Large-scale Collaborative Effort Aims to Increase Understanding of Cancer Therapy Combinations

Large-scale Collaborative Effort Aims to Increase Understanding of Cancer Therapy Combinations

In an unprecedented collaborative effort, Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) has launched 10 clinical trials through its therapy development initiative SU2C Catalyst — projects that will involve researchers from more than 30 research institutions and explore treatments from nine pharmaceutical companies to advance combination therapies across a range of cancer types.

The three companies that serve as charter supporters — Merck (known as MSD outside the U.S. and Canada), Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Genentech — will provide access to medications and grants to enable the trials.

The hope is that the 10 inaugural trials will provide more knowledge about not only whether certain treatment combinations are effective, but also why they are effective in certain patients while others don’t respond.

“These inaugural awards focus on immunotherapy compounds provided by Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Genentech,” Dr. Raymond N. DuBois, an MD and PhD, dean of the College of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, said in a press release.

“We’ve seen the astounding potential of immunotherapy, but it’s still somewhat of a black box. We don’t know why it only works for certain people and not for others,” added DuBois, who is also chair of the donor-specific SU2C Catalyst Steering Subcommittees.

Researchers will study immunotherapies along with additional treatments from AbbVie, Astex Pharmaceuticals, Iovance Biotherapeutics, Mirati Therapeutics, Prometheus Laboratories, and TESARO.

The treatments to be explored will include new compounds still in clinical development as well as therapies that are already approved. SU2C Catalyst subcommittees — mainly composed of leading academic researchers — chose treatments to be included in the collaborative effort after evaluating proposals by scientists at academic research institutions.

“This unique industry/academic collaboration has reduced the time for SU2C to get clinical trials started by more than 75 percent while bringing significant scientific rigor to the selection and oversight of the projects,” said Sung Poblete, PhD and RN, the president and CEO of SU2C.

He emphasized that the approach speeds up the process of advancing treatments from an idea into a clinical trial, compared to traditional investigator-initiated studies when academic scientists launch trials independent from a pharmaceutical firm.

“Where companies often focus on an approval pathway for a specific indication, SU2C Catalyst broadens the approach by asking the scientific community how best to use the treatment in any setting and in any combination,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, chairman of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a member of its Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

“These SU2C Catalyst projects promote combinations that would not likely be considered without this program even before they’re approved for other indications,” added Sharp, who received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for key insights into how genes work.

Among cancers included in the collaborative project are breast, lung, melanoma, multiple myeloma, ovarian, pancreatic, hypermutant pediatric cancers, sarcoma, and urothelial cancer. While plenty of advances have been made in treating various cancers, researchers are still in the dark about why some people respond to treatment and others don’t.

“SU2C Catalyst projects are aimed at learning how to prime people to respond and/or how to make that response last,” DuBois said. “Again, not just asking if a combination works, but digging into the why, so that the results — positive or negative — drive breakthroughs for the best patient outcomes for more patients.”