June 16, 2022

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research Awards ~$12 million to Cancer Grand Challenges Team Developing Novel Immunotherapies for Childhood Solid Tumors

Global team aims to bring next generation CAR T-cell therapies to children with solid tumors

New York, NY, June 16, 2022 — The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research today announces a new ~$12 million grant to support a global team developing novel immunotherapies for children with solid tumors through Cancer Grand Challenges, an international funding initiative aiming to answer some of the biggest questions facing cancer research worldwide.  With this award, the NexTGen team, led by Professor Catherine Bollard (Children’s National Hospital, US) and Dr. Martin Pule (University College London, UK), seeks to build a deeper understanding of childhood brain tumors and sarcomas, leading to the development of effective CAR T-cell therapy treatments for these patients.

Over 400,000 children worldwide are estimated to develop cancer each year. Cancer remains a major cause of death for children, and survivors often face lifelong health challenges both from the cancer itself and the side effects of their cancer treatments.  While survival rates for some cancer types have dramatically improved in recent decades, some childhood cancers such as sarcoma and brain tumors have benefited little from scientific advances.

Cancer Grand Challenges sought to address this unmet need by issuing the Solid Tumors in Children Challenge, which tasks researchers with developing novel therapies that take into account the unique biology of childhood tumors. The NexTGen team, a global consortium of 25 researchers across 3 countries, was selected from hundreds of applicants to tackle this challenge with their innovative approach to adapting CAR T-cell therapy for the specific challenges of pediatric solid tumors.

“Our vision is that CAR T-cell therapy for solid childhood cancers will be at the front line within a decade, improving outcomes for children with the poorest prognosis and mitigating the toxicities of our current standard of care. By bringing together a critical mass of diverse researchers with a focus on bench to bedside and back again, we believe we’ll overcome current challenges and realize this vision,” says Dr. Pule, co-lead of the NexTGen team.

While CAR T-cell therapy is well on its way to revolutionizing care for patients with certain blood cancers, there is much work to be done for this treatment to be effective on solid tumors,” says Ray DuBois, MD, PhD, executive chairman of the board of The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. “The Mark Foundation is proud to support this outstanding Cancer Grand Challenges team working to accelerate the next generation of CAR T-cell therapies to save the lives of children with currently incurable disease.”

“What excites me most about our team is the energized, passionate group of people we’ve brought together, who might not have collaborated otherwise. We’re also excited to unite world-renowned scientists with rising stars who will bolster our program and who we believe will become the future leaders in the childhood oncology field,” says Professor Bollard, co-lead of the team. “With this Cancer Grand Challenge, we hope to bring next-generation CAR T-cell therapies to children with solid cancers. Big problems remain to be addressed, but we believe that they can be solved, and we’re the team to solve them.”

“We’re delighted that The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research has partnered with Cancer Grand Challenges to co-fund the team taking on our Solid Tumors in Children Challenge,” says David Scott, PhD, Director of Cancer Grand Challenges, Cancer Research UK. “Through this partnership, we will support a diverse, global team of researchers and advocates to bring vital new immunotherapies to children with solid cancers.”

The team is one of four global Cancer Grand Challenges research teams announced today. Collectively the four teams are receiving $100 million to take on some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. The other three Cancer Grand Challenges teams will be investigating the debilitating wasting condition of cachexia (the Cachexia challenge), a major driver of tumor evolution (the Extrachromosomal DNA challenge), and the very early stages of cancer development (the Normal Phenotypes challenge). Cancer Grand Challenges is co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute, and this round of funding also brought on the Associación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC) (Spanish Association Against Cancer) as a partner to support the Normal Phenotypes challenge.

This is the second Cancer Grand Challenges team supported by The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research; in 2019, the organization partnered with Cancer Research UK to co-fund the SPECIFICANCER team, led by Professor Stephen Elledge, Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to develop a deeper understanding of why cancers grow in some tissues but not in others and find new ways to prevent or treat cancers in these tissues.

About The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research actively partners with scientists, research institutions, and philanthropic organizations around the world to accelerate research that will transform the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Since 2017, The Mark Foundation has awarded more than $160 million in grants to enable innovative basic, translational, and clinical cancer research, including drug discovery. In 2022, The Mark Foundation received an additional $500 million commitment to fund cutting-edge cancer research in its first decade. The Mark Foundation also has a robust and growing portfolio of investments in oncology companies developing novel therapeutics and diagnostics. Through its research and venture arms, The Mark Foundation supports projects throughout their life cycle to ensure their highest chance of success in impacting the lives of patients with breakthroughs in cancer care.

About Cancer Grand Challenges

Cancer Grand Challenges is supporting a global community of diverse, world-class research teams and partners to come together, think differently and drive progress against some of cancer’s toughest challenges. These are the obstacles that continue to impede progress and no one scientist, institution or country will be able to solve them alone. Through a series of £20 million awards, founding partners Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. are empowering teams to rise above the traditional boundaries of geography and discipline to achieve the progress against cancer so urgently needed.

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