November 13, 2015

Salk professor Ron Evans to co-lead 'Dream Team' of pancreatic cancer researchers from US, UK

Stand Up To Cancer, Cancer Research UK, and The Lustgarten Foundation fund team with $12 million

Salk News


Salk professor Ron Evans to co-lead ‘Dream Team’ of pancreatic cancer researchers from US, UK

Stand Up To Cancer, Cancer Research UK, and The Lustgarten Foundation fund team with $12 million

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute will co-lead a new transatlantic ‘Dream Team’ of researchers that will launch a fresh attack on pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of cancer on both sides of the Atlantic. Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), Cancer Research UK, and The Lustgarten Foundation selected the team and will provide $12 million in funding over three years.

Ron Evans, director of Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Research Scholar of the Lustgarten Foundation, will co-lead the team, which is comprised of nearly two dozen researchers and clinicians in a trans-Atlantic alliance. “Our goal is to use cutting-edge science to advance entirely new therapies for patients that improve survival and offer hope for a cure,” Evans said. His UK co-leader is internationally renowned cancer geneticist Gerard Evan, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. The team will also be led by Daniel Von Hoff, physician-in-chief and distinguished professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Arizona; chief scientific officer at HonorHealth; and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

The Dream Team’s research project will focus on reprogramming the biology of cells in pancreatic tumors–both the cancer cells as well as the surrounding noncancerous cells upon which the cancer cells rely for support–so the tumors can be stopped. They have found gene networks in pancreatic tumors controlled by genetic “hot spots” in the DNA called super enhancers (SEs) that are known to control wound repair and tissue regeneration.

“Cancer is like a wound that does not heal,” Evans said, “in part because the super enhancer master switch is stuck in the ‘on’ position. By deploying a completely new class of drugs, our goal is to reboot the circuit, reprogram the entire cell, and send the pancreatic cancer into durable remission. By thinking differently, we will bring a new approach to defeat this disease.”

Evans is an authority on hormones, both their normal activities and their roles in disease. A major achievement in Evans’ lab was the discovery of a large family of molecules, named nuclear hormone receptors, which respond to various steroid hormones, vitamin A and thyroid hormones. These hormones help control sugar, salt, calcium and fat metabolism, thereby influencing daily health as well as treatment of disease. The receptors Evans discovered are primary targets in the treatment of leukemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Evans’ lab also discovered that a chemically modified form of vitamin D might offer a new approach to the treatment of pancreatic cancer. The vitamin D derivative makes tumor cells vulnerable to chemotherapy and more sensitive to the body’s immune system. With clinicians at the University of Pennsylvania, Evans’ team launched a clinical trial to test this drug in cancer patients.

The SU2C-Cancer Research UK-Lustgarten Foundation Dream Team aims to develop new approaches to reset malfunctioning SEs in pancreatic tumors, thereby dialing up sensitivity to chemotherapy and anticancer immune cells to push pancreatic tumors into lasting remission. To achieve this goal, team members will take a three-pronged approach. They will use cutting-edge technology to analyze pancreatic tumor SE hot spots so they can understand the biological “hacking” of normal wound-healing regenerative processes. They will seek to understand how SEs allow cancer cells to obtain nutrients from nearby normal cells, while at the same time avoiding detection by the immune system. They will also initiate clinical trials in pancreatic cancer with a new class of SE-targeted drugs geared to enhance chemotherapy and revitalize the immune response. The trials are slated to start in the first year of the Dream Team’s funding.

A Joint Scientific Advisory Committee (JSAC) comprised of highly accomplished researchers and physician-scientists, as well as advocates, conducted a rapid, interactive and rigorous evaluation of the applications and ultimately selected Von Hoff, Evans and Evan to lead the team. The initiative fosters an important partnership between the Salk Institute and UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. Evans is joined by Salk Professor Tony Hunter of the Molecular and Cell Biology Lab and Salk Senior Staff Scientist Michael Downes of the Gene Expression Lab. They will collaborate with researchers Andrew Lowy, MD and Tannishtha Reya, PhD, of the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“Eradicating pancreatic cancer will take a collaborative effort, and private funding plays a critical role in accelerating the development of new clinical trials for this deadly disease,” said Kerri Kaplan, executive director and chief operating officer of The Lustgarten Foundation. “This international collaboration will bring together leading global experts in the
field of pancreatic cancer research, and together we will focus on developing new therapies and innovative approaches so patients can benefit and live longer lives.”

The Stand Up To Cancer Initiative
Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, was established in 2008 by film and media leaders who utilize the industry’s resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, and to increase awareness about cancer prevention as well as progress being made in the fight against the disease. As SU2C’s scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and a Scientific Advisory Committee led by Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, conduct rigorous, competitive review processes to identify the best research proposals to recommend for funding, oversee grants administration, and provide expert review of research progress.

Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive cancer. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive cancer within the next 20 years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

Stand Up To Cancer (UK)
Stand Up To Cancer is a joint national fundraising event from Channel 4 and Cancer Research UK.

  • 2014’s campaign raised £15,585,444.15
  • In 2014, the live fundraising event was hosted by Davina McCall, Alan Carr and Dr. Christian Jessen and featured celebrity interviews and moving real life stories
  • Stars such as Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Noel Gallagher, Nicole Scherzinger, Pharrell Williams, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gillian Anderson, Britney Spears, Idris Elba, Andy Murray, Bradley Cooper, Taylor Swift, Martin Freeman, Jamie Oliver, Kathy Burke, Miranda Hart, Paul O’Grady and Richard Ayoade are just some of the talent who support Stand Up To Cancer

The Lustgarten Foundation
Founded in 1998, The Lustgarten Foundation is America’s largest private foundation dedicated to funding pancreatic cancer research. Based in Bethpage, New York, the Foundation supports research to find a cure for pancreatic cancer, facilitates dialogue within the medical and scientific community, and educates the public about the disease through awareness campaigns and fundraising events. Since its inception, the Foundation has directed more than $110 million to research and assembled the best scientific minds with the hope that one day, a cure can be found. Due to the support of Cablevision Systems Corporation, a leading media and telecommunications company, 100 percent of every dollar donated to the Foundation goes directly to pancreatic cancer research. The Lustgarten Foundation and Cablevision are also partners in the curePC public awareness campaign in support of the fight against pancreatic cancer. For additional information, please visit www.lustgarten.org.

American Association for Cancer Research
Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR membership includes more than 35,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and patient advocates residing in 101 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 30 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with over 18,500 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes eight peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients, and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration, and scientific oversight of team science and individual grants in cancer research that have the potential for near-term patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer. For more information about the AACR, visit www.AACR.org.


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Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk’s mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology, plant biology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer’s, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin.