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Latest grants announced in Australia-US blood cancer research co-funding partnership

Latest grants announced in Australia-US blood cancer research co-funding partnership

Two new research projects co-funded through a partnership between America’s The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), Snowdome Foundation and Leukaemia Foundation will focus on acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), seeking to improve understanding and treatment of these blood cancers.

Prof. Ravindra Majeti, Stanford University in the US, will join with Assoc. Prof. Dan Thomas, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), to examine personalised targeting of AML mutations, while Prof. John Pimanda, University of NSW (UNSW), will explore how to achieve optimal responses to specific MDS and AML treatments. Each project will receive a three-year grant worth US$600,000.

2019 marked the first time the Snowdome and Leukaemia Foundations partnered with LLS to enable four Australian researchers access to funding through a special Australian round of the LLS Translational Research Program.  The goal of the translational research was to reduce the time between laboratory findings and actual treatment. The announcement today of the 2019/20 grant recipients Majeti, Thomas and Pimanda brings together a total of six projects across  Australia and the US,  which have benefitted from this partnership to date.

Leukaemia Foundation General Manager of Blood Cancer Partnerships Tim Murphy said the organisation welcomed the opportunity to again unite with LLS and Snowdome Foundation to support leading Australian blood cancer researchers to undertake innovative work with a potential global impact.

“Accelerating research to achieve rapid advancements in blood cancer treatment is a key priority of the Leukaemia Foundation and by partnering with other organisations with the same goals, we can increase the depth of research we are able to fund,” he said.

“The more we know about specific blood cancers and best treatment options, the better our chances of curing and conquering this complex set of diseases, and the closer we are to realising our vision to see zero lives lost to blood cancer by 2035.”

Chief Scientific Officer of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Lee Greenberger, Ph.D. said

“It is a privilege for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to work with the Snowdome Foundation and the Leukaemia Foundation, as we join forces to bring better therapies to patients with blood cancer.  This international collaboration between the most talented blood cancer scientists and clinicians in both Australia and the U.S., has already improved outcomes and will pave the way for a brighter future for these patients.  We are at a pivotal time in blood cancer discovery and there has never been a more important time to work together towards our common goals.”

Snowdome CEO Kirstee Macbeth added: “We are extremely pleased to continue the collaboration between The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Snowdome Foundation and the Leukaemia Foundation to support Australian researchers in 2019/20. Australia is fortunate to have such talented blood cancer researchers however, crucial funding is needed to support their work. This partnership enables those investigators to facilitate further advances into blood cancer research, to increase the reach and ultimately, provide positive treatment outcomes for patients. Snowdome is passionate about making hope real for all blood cancer patients and we look forward to seeing the inspiring research proposals.”

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of blood cancers that result in progressive failure of normal blood cell production and can transform into acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

AML is the name given to a group of leukaemias that develop in the myeloid cell line in the bone marrow. AML is characterised by overproduction of immature white blood cells, preventing normal blood cell formation by crowding the marrow and potentially spilling into the bloodstream and circulating around the body. AML is an aggressive blood cancer with a low average 5-year and long-term survival rates. Whilst most patients appear to achieve a remission with treatment, the majority eventually relapse.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society-Snowdome Foundation-Leukaemia Foundation Translational Research Program 2019/20 recipients and their respective research proposals to improve understanding of, and treatment for, MDS and AML are:

Prof. Ravindra Majeti (Stanford University) and Assoc. Prof. Dan Thomas (SAHMRI)

Prof. Majeti and Assoc. Prof. Thomas recently discovered a strong link between the metabolism of leukemia cells and common leukemia-causing mutations through modulation of a central metabolic factor called alpha ketoglutarate. They have since developed innovative methods that can assess the fate of alpha ketoglutarate-dependent reactions on DNA, histones, lipid production, and energy metabolism. This research proposes to apply these methods to characterize AML patient samples to inform a precision medicine therapy approach to treating the blood cancer. It also aims to investigate pharmacologic agents targeting the alpha ketoglutarate-dependent reactions. The objective of the research is to develop personalised medicine through metabolic targeting to deliver mutation-directed therapies to AML patients. Prof. Majeti is Professor of Medicine, Chief of the Division of Haematology, and Member of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Assoc. Prof. Thomas is a clinical haematologist and blood cancer scientist. He has recently returned from working with Prof Majeti at Stanford University to lead his own Myeloid Metabolism Laboratory at SAHMRI. He has developed algorithms to predict and design mutation-specific therapeutics and novel stem cell assays to study leukemia stem cells.

Prof. John Pimanda (UNSW)

The most effective medicine to treat MDS, azacitidine, works in only half of MDS and associated AML patients who commence treatment. Over the past decade, Prof. Pimanda and his team have identified treatment alternatives for patients who have been proven, or have potential to be, non-responsive to azacitidine. The research proposes to discover new medicine that improves azacitidine efficacy by using a novel chemical-genome screen using a MDS cell line to identify specific genes that can make MDS cells more sensitive to the medicine. This information will then be used to identify molecular pathways amenable to pharmacological manipulation to achieve the same effect. Efficacy of medicine combinations in enhancing azacitidine activity can then be assessed, using azacytidine non-responder MDS cells to undertake pre-clinical testing in preparation for a future clinical trial. Prof. Pimanda heads a research group at the Prince of Wales Clinical School at UNSW Sydney. He is the founder of the NSW Myeloid Malignancy Network and one of Australia’s leading researchers in the field of MDS.

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