GREENWICH, Conn., – The Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), founded by Greenwich residents Edward and Barbara Netter, and the only national non-profit organization committed exclusively to cancer gene and cell therapy research, believes that innovative new therapies are the future of cancer research and treatment. ACGT recently celebrated progress toward this goal to a standing room only crowd at a Gala Cocktail Benefit honoring some of the nation’s leading scientists in gene and cell cancer research. The event, held at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, featured prominent scientists who are involved in new and innovative cell and gene based treatments to tackle just about every form of cancer. The benefit co-chaired by Barbara Netter, ACGT co-founder, and Sharon Walsted Phillips, a member of the ACGT Board of Directors, raised close to $500,000 that will go toward funding additional cancer gene therapy grants to ACGT research fellows.
The event highlighted the work of two of ACGT’s scientists, Dr. Robert Vonderheide, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Dr. John Nemunaitis, Executive Medical Director of Mary Crowley Medical Research Center, one of the nation’s premier Phase I and II cancer clinical centers.
Dr. Vonderheide, ACGT Research Fellow and grant recipient, has successfully advanced a promising vaccine approach to cancer treatment which awakens an immune response that kills tumor cells. He and a team at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine have been successful in testing the safety and potential efficacy of this novel vaccine in privately owned canines presenting with lymphoma, and now plan to enter human clinical trials.
“Using gene therapy for treating cancer is real and happening now,” noted Dr. Vonderheide. “Gene therapy for cancer is gaining momentum and what we need today is public access and funding to take more studies into clinical trials and see results.” Dr. Vonderheide noted that the technology is available today to stop cancer. What is needed is funding behind the technology to forward the progress from the laboratory into the doctor’s office. Dr. Vonderheide credits the research grant he received from ACGT for “bringing a bright idea to reality.”
Dr. John Nemunaitis, a member of the ACGT Scientific Advisory Council, presented very exciting information on clinical trials happening at the Mary Crowley Medical Research Center. Patients are now in their 15th year of survival after being treated with gene therapy for prostate, melanoma and lung cancer.
“We’ve had promising success with creating a personalized therapeutic means of treating patients,” noted Dr. Nemunaitis, who has been instrumental in developing personalized vaccines based on cancer cells from the individual patients. He went on to note, “The future of oncology includes using gene therapy to create ways to STOP cancer signals and cells from creating cancer.”
Dr. Michael Lotze, a member of ACGT’s Scientific Advisory Council and one of 8 distinguished guest scientists, is Director of Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Director of Strategic Partnerships of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He described the future of treating cancer this way:
“If each 25,000 gene in DNA is a single note (you can play and turn into music), than using micro RNA’s in gene therapy is like playing Mozart and Tchaikovsky.”
Other guest scientists, members of the ACGT Scientific Advisory Council and Research Fellows, included: Dr. Savio Woo, Chairman of the Council and Professor and Chairman of Gene and Cell Medicine, and Dr. Stuart Aaronson, Chairman, Department Oncological Sciences, Mt. Sinai; Dr. Carl June, Director Translational Research, and Dr. George Coukos, Director, Center for Research for Ovarian Cancer, Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Stephen Eck, Vice President for Translational Medicine and Pharmacogenomics, Eli Lilly and Company; Dr. Michel Sadelain, Head, Gene Therapy and Gene Expression Laboratory, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Dr. Harald Sauthoff,
Assistant Professor of Medicine, New York University; and
Dr. George Yancopoulos, President of Regeneron Laboratories and
Chief Scientific Officer Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
ACGT has issued $20 million in research grants to 33 ACGT Research Fellows representing such leading research institutions as Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Duke University, The Salk Institute, University of Pennsylvania, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Chicago. Identified through a rigorous selection procedure, the scientists and their research projects address brain, breast, lymphoma/leukemia, prostate, lung, and ovarian cancer, among others. With the help of ACGT’s funding, more than 107 scientific papers have been published on the research. ACGT’s current goal is to advance gene and cell therapy to stage two clinical trials.