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Winship multiple myeloma team awarded prestigious center of excellence grant

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Winship project leaders on the five-year, $5 million Specialized Center for Research (SCOR) grant include (left to right) Lawrence Boise, PhD, Madhav Dhodapkar, MBBS, Sagar Lonial, MD, and Kavita Dhodapkar, MBBS.

The multiple myeloma team of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University (Winship) in collaboration with researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has been awarded a five-year, $5 million Specialized Center for Research (SCOR) grant from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). This prestigious award will support research focused on improving adoptive cell therapies for patients with multiple myeloma and developing the next generation of promising myeloma therapies for patients.

Led by principal investigator Madhav Dhodapkar, MBBS, director of the Winship Center for Cancer Immunology and holder of the Anise McDaniel Brock Chair, the myeloma team will seek to improve chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy for multiple myeloma patients. CAR T-cell therapy has been effective for patients with certain types of leukemia and lymphoma and has shown promise for myeloma patients in clinical trials. A number of myeloma patients have developed resistance to this treatment and then experienced regrowth of this disease. The Winship myeloma team will use this SCOR funding to investigate the underlying mechanisms of this resistance.

"We're at a critical time of advancing translational research into immunotherapies for multiple myeloma, and this grant will support that work," says Madhav Dhodapkar. "There's great potential in this kind of multidisciplinary team science and I'm humbled to lead a team made up of amazing investigators from Emory University, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Yale."

The LLS SCOR grant program is intended to bring together established investigators from one or more institutions to develop a focused research program, foster new interactions and cooperation, and enhance interdisciplinary research among the participants. LLS awarded the SCOR grant for a new collaboration between Winship and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Winship project leaders on the grant include Sagar Lonial, MD, Winship chief medical officer, chair of the Emory Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, and the Anne and Bernard Gray Family Chair in Cancer; Lawrence Boise, PhD, Winship 5K Research Professor and vice chair for basic research in the Emory Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology; and Kavita Dhodapkar, MBBS, associate professor in the Emory Department of Pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Immuno-Oncology Program at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. The team also includes Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center immunotherapy researchers Stanley Riddell, MD, Damian Green, MD, Cameron Turtle, MBBS, PhD, and Geoffrey Hill, MD; and Richard Flavell, PhD, FRS, at Yale University.

"We are thrilled that The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is supporting team science in multiple myeloma research," says Lonial. "Finding ways to optimize the impact of CAR T-cell therapy for patients with multiple myeloma or other diseases is a huge area of interest for a number of different centers. Partnering with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a unique opportunity to really have an impact on how to best deliver cellular therapy for blood cancers and apply those lessons to all cancers."

Multiple myeloma is caused when plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control, crowding out normal plasma cells in the bone marrow. The goal of this translational research is to improve the efficacy of targeting B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA), a protein found on the surface of myeloma cells, through CAR T-cell therapy and to understand the mechanisms of resistance to this approach. The group is also developing the use of natural killer T, or NKT cells, as the starting point for CAR T-cell therapy. NKT cells are lymphocytes that are part of the innate immune system and are known for controlling early signs of cancer.

"The overall goal of LLS's SCOR program is to foster collaboration to enhance the development of innovative strategies for the treatment, diagnosis or prevention of hematological malignancies," says LLS Chief Scientific Officer Lee Greenberger, PhD. "This team of leading researchers from Emory, Fred Hutch and Yale have the talent and experience to drive forward the science in this still emerging field of immunotherapy. We are confident that this team will make discoveries that will make a real difference in outcomes for myeloma patients."

In addition to the SCOR award from LLS, Winship recently gained recognition for its immunology program as one of only six cancer centers in the United States to receive a supplemental award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support advancing new cancer cell therapies into clinical trials for patients. The grant brings together interdisciplinary teams of translational cancer immunologists, basic immunologists, and biomedical engineers at Winship and Georgia Institute of Technology.

"We've crossed an important threshold for the recognition of our cancer immunology program, and the LLS grant strengthens Winship as a leader in developing new cellular therapies for cancer patients," says Walter J. Curran, Jr., MD, executive director of Winship and the Lawrence W. Davis Chair in Radiation Oncology and the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and Chair in Cancer Research.

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