The Mark Foundation spurs innovation in immunotherapy.

The Mark Foundation spurs innovation in immunotherapy.

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research has awarded Dana-Farber investigator Catherine Wu, MD, and two investigators at the Broad Institute a $3 million, three-year grant to further their research into personalized, T cell-directed cancer immunotherapy.

Wu and her Broad Institute colleagues are one of four teams selected for The Mark Foundation’s 2023 Endeavor Awards. The goal of these prestigious grants, the foundation says, is “to support teams of scientists tackling a range of urgent challenges in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.” Since 2021, the cancer-focused nonprofit has distributed $30 million in Endeavor Awards “to accelerate progress in high-priority research areas through a collaborative approach.”

Wu is the chief of Dana-Farber’s Division of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies and a Lavine Family Chair for Preventative Cancer Therapies. She and her team are working to better understand the biological mechanisms behind potentially lifesaving T cell-directed therapies that kill cancer cells and tumors. While such therapies have been transformative for some patients, several factors prevent them from being more widely effective, particularly against solid tumors.

The researchers are using samples from patients with colorectal cancer and high-grade serous ovarian cancer to develop new ways of boosting the efficacy of tumor-reactive T cells (TCRs). By better understanding how T cells function to eliminate tumors, the team hopes to translate their findings into personalized and shared therapies.

“Immunotherapy has been helpful against certain cancers like melanoma, but we have not had the same success across all cancer types, and it’s essential to understand why,” said Wu. “We’re looking at several central questions: What are the antigen targets for TCRs? How do T cell clones interact with the tumor microenvironment? And what is the optimal state of T cells for lasting tumor suppression?”

The team’s work will build on their previous innovations, which make it possible to rapidly identify a patient’s TCRs and then reprogram those cells so that they are toxic to cancer cells without damaging healthy ones.

“The Mark Foundation is committed to supporting the most exciting projects in cancer research throughout their life cycle,” said Mark Foundation CEO Ryan Schoenfeld, PhD. “I cannot wait to see what highly personalized, lifesaving treatments will come from the work Dr. Wu and her team are doing.”

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