It is with great pleasure that we share with you a new exciting joint venture that we hope lays the groundwork for a cure for HPV-positive cancers.

The Anal Cancer Foundation  joined with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), the Farrah Fawcett Foundation (FFF), and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), to announce the formation of a research team dedicated to HPV-related cancers at the AACR Annual Meeting 2014, held April 5-9 in San Diego, California.

The $1.2 million SU2C-FFF Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Translational Research Team Grant will support researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts for three years. Ellis L. Reinherz, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Immunobiology and co-director of the Cancer Vaccine Center at Dana-Farber and Robert I. Haddad, M.D., disease center leader for head and neck oncology at Dana-Farber, will lead the research project titled “Therapeutic CD8 vaccines against conserved E7 HPV epitopes identified by MS.”

The study will focus on developing immunotherapy treatments for patients with recurrent HPV-related cancers, including anal, cervical, and head and neck cancers. The goal of immunotherapy treatment is to use the bodies defenses to find and destroy cancerous cells without damaging healthy cells. HPV, which is a virus, causes at least six different cancers. Each year in the US, over 30,000 people are diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer. HPV-positive oral and anal cancers are on the rise.

Project Details

“Our project involves the development of vaccines that stimulate specific immune cells to attack HPV-driven cancer cells,” said Reinherz. “While current vaccines effectively prevent HPV infection from taking place in unexposed individuals, they are unable to offer protection to those already exposed subjects either at risk of developing a tumor or with an existing cancer. Our vaccine is uniquely designed to attack the cancers even after tumor formation and, importantly, without causing collateral damage to normal tissues. The strategy is to 1) identify the tumor target, 2) activate specific immune cells, and 3) deploy these effectors at the tumor site for selective destruction of the cancer.”

The researchers have developed a highly sensitive ion physics method to find “tags,” called epitopes, on cancer cells that are entirely specific for the cancer and hence not found on the normal cells in the body. These tags can signal to receptors on a specific type of immune cell, called a cytolytic T lymphocyte (CTL), to attack and kill the cancer once CTLs are programmed by vaccination to do so in the patient’s body. One CTL target that the team has already identified has been incorporated into a new therapeutic vaccine that will be tested on patients in a clinical trial as part of this research grant. The team will also use their epitope-identification technology to find other epitopes for the development of additional immunotherapeutic agents.

Finally, they will identify the T cell receptors on CTL that provide the best immune response in order to re-engineer the patients’ own immune cells in the laboratory for use as a cancer treatment. “We are focusing in particular on patients with an HPV-driven cancer who have relapsed after their initial therapy,” said Haddad. “These patients have few therapeutic options today, and we aim to provide a new and targeted approach to improving outcomes for them. Our expectation is that a therapeutic vaccine would also be less toxic than conventional chemotherapy currently being used in clinical practice.”

The project is expected to begin July 2014.

Research Team Selection Information

The proposals for the SU2C-Farrah Fawcett Foundation Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Translational Research Team Grant were reviewed by a panel of renowned scientists. The committee was co-chaired by Waun Ki Hong, M.D., FACP, D.M.Sc. (hon.), and Lawrence D. Piro, M.D. Dr. Hong is division head and professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, an American Cancer Society professor, and a Samsung distinguished university chair in cancer medicine. Dr. Piro is the president and chief executive officer of The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute and professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. The process began with a call for ideas by the AACR in September 2013, and eight finalists were invited to submit full proposals. Of the finalists, the committee recommended funding of the Reinherz and Haddad team. The AACR is responsible for administering the grant and provides ongoing scientific oversight to ensure that progress is being made.