Cancer

Coding Dimension ID: 
280
Coding Dimension path name: 
Cancer
Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Development III
Grant Number: 
DR3-06924
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
Type: 
Co-PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$4 179 600
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Cancer is a leading cause of death in California. Research has found that many cancers can spread throughout the body and resist current anti-cancer therapies because of cancer stem cells, or CSC. CSC can be considered the seeds of cancer; they can resist being killed by anti-cancer drugs and can lay dormant, sometimes for long periods, before growing into active cancers at the original tumor site, or at distant sites throughout the body. Required are therapies that can kill CSC while not harming normal stem cells, which are needed for making blood and other cells that must be replenished. We have discovered a protein on the surface of CSC that is not present on normal cells of healthy adults. This protein, called ROR1, ordinarily is found only on cells during early development in the embryo. CSC have co-opted the use of ROR1 to promote their survival, proliferation, and spread throughout the body. We have developed a monoclonal antibody that is specific for ROR1 and that can inhibit these functions, which are vital for CSC. Because this antibody does not bind to normal cells, it can serve as the “magic bullet” to deliver a specific hit to CSC. We will conduct clinical trials with the antibody, first in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia to define the safety and best dose to use. Then we plan to conduct clinical trials involving patients with other types of cancer. To prepare for such clinical trials, we will use our state-of-the-art model systems to investigate the best way to eradicate CSC of other intractable leukemias and solid tumors. Finally, we will investigate the potential for using this antibody to deliver toxins selectively to CSC. This selective delivery could be very active in killing CSC without harming normal cells in the body because they lack expression of ROR1. With this antibody we can develop curative stem-cell-directed therapy for patients with any one of many different types of currently intractable cancers.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The proposal aims to develop a novel anti-cancer-stem-cell (CSC) targeted therapy for patients with intractable malignancies. This therapy involves use of a fully humanized monoclonal antibody specific for a newly identified, CSC antigen called ROR1. This antibody was developed under the auspices of a CIRM disease team I award and is being readied for phase I clinical testing involving patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Our research has revealed that the antibody specifically reacts with CSC of other leukemias and many solid-tumor cancers, but does not bind to normal adult tissues. Moreover, it has functional activity in blocking the growth and survival of CSC, making it ideal for directing therapy intended to eradicate CSC of many different cancer types, without affecting normal adult stem cells or other normal tissues. As such, treatment could avoid the devastating physical and financial adverse effects associated with many standard anti-cancer therapies. Also, because this therapy attacks the CSC, it might prove to be a curative treatment for California patients with any one of a variety different types of currently intractable cancers.

Beyond the significant benefit to the patients and families that are dealing with cancer, this project will also strengthen the position of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine as a leader in cancer stem cell biology, and will deliver intellectual property to the state of California that may then be licensed to pharmaceutical companies.

In summary, the benefits to the citizens of California from the CIRM disease team 3 grant are:

(1) Direct benefit to the thousands of patients with cancer
(2) Financial savings through definitive treatment that obviates costly maintenance or salvage therapies for patients with intractable cancers
(3) Potential for an anti-cancer therapy with a high therapeutic index
(4) Intellectual property of a broadly active uniquely targeted anti-CSC therapeutic agent.

Progress Report: 
  • Dormant cancer stem cells (CSC) evade therapies that target dividing cells and promote drug-resistance, relapse, and metastasis. Despite advances in molecularly targeted therapy, therapeutic resistance and relapse, driven by self-renewing CSC, remain major therapeutic challenges in common hematologic malignancies like chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). As a result of a CIRM HALT leukemia disease team grant, we were able to pre-clinically inhibit CSC survival in CLL and a broad array of other advanced malignancy models by developing a monoclonal antibody, cirmtuzumab (UC-961), which targets the Wnt5A receptor, ROR1. Cirmtuzumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody (mAb) that binds with high-affinity to a proprietary, extracellular epitope of ROR1, which we defined as an onco-embryonic antigen. While ROR1 is not expressed on adult hematopoietic stem cells or other normal post-partum tissues, it is highly expressed on the cell-surface of CSC in CLL. Cirmtuzumab does not bind to normal adult tissues, but has unique functional activity against CSC by targeting ROR1, which acts in a niche-dependent fashion. In preclinical models, shRNA-silencing of ROR1 was shown to impair activation of phospho-AKT/CREB, increases spontaneous apoptosis, and inhibit the proliferation, migration, and metastatic potential of CSC in a manner similar to cirmtuzumab. In addition, cirmtuzumab inhibits the capacity of CSC to to propagate CLL in immune-deficient mice. Finally, cirmtuzumab induced rapid internalization of ROR1, thereby inhibiting CSC survival. Based on these unique features, we proceeded with the cirmtuzumab clinical development plan under the auspices of the CIRM disease team 3 grant.
  • Over the last year, this CIRM Disease team grant has enabled filing and FDA approval of an investigational new drug application (IND) for cirmtuzumab as well as the implementation and administration of an ongoing first-in-human Phase 1A clinical trial to assess safety and tolerability in patients with CLL who are not amenable to standard therapy. In keeping with the FDA IND-approved intra-patient dose escalation schema and related cirmtuzumab administration timeline, our team has enrolled 8 patients to the Phase lA clinical trial at UC San Diego for patients with relapsed or refractory CLL since 8/29/15. In particular, we have now completed enrollment of the first and second dose cohorts (doses: 15 mcg/kg and 30 mcg/kg for cohort 1; 60 mcg/kg, 120 mcg/kg, and 240 mcg/kg for cohort 2). There have been no observed grade 2 or higher adverse events attributed to cirmtuzumab. Two patients have now enrolled and initiated therapy in the third dose cohort (planned doses 500 mcg/kg and 1 mg/kg). While durable clinical responses have not been observed at these low doses, there has been evidence of biological activity and clinical benefit with stabilization of disease in some patients. This has prompted the development of a Phase 1B clinical trial, currently under review at our IRB and at CIRM, to allow patients that have derived some benefit from cirmtuzumab treatment to receive additional doses and to determine if longer term treatment provides for enhanced clinical benefit while retaining an excellent safety profile.
  • Correlative biomarkers include flow cytometric analyses that address disease heterogeneity and are suggestive of decreased ROR1 expression in the more recent dosing cohorts that may be used in the future to predict clinical outcome. In cohorts that demonstrate signs of sustained clinical responses, we will examine the activity of cirmtuzumab-based treatments in eradicating ROR1+ CSC by flow cytometry. Pharmacokinetic assessments are ongoing but cirmtuzumab plasma levels appear to correlate with response in the more recent higher dose cohort. In addition, we will examine the activity and anticipated therapeutic index (TI) of cirmtuzumab in relapsed/refactory CLL. If one or more of these tests meet milestones, then clinical studies of regimens with the highest apparent TI will be conducted in years 3-4. Upon completion of our program, we will deliver a cirmtuzumab-based therapeutic that will be suitable for registration and/or pivotal clinical trials and facilitate commercialization of this novel cancer stem-cell targeted therapy for Californians with cancer.
Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06209
Investigator: 
Name: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 382 400
Disease Focus: 
Cancer
Prostate Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Progress from our group and others has led to the identification of normal prostate tissue stem cells and the definition of important signaling pathways that regulate their growth and maintenance. Human cancers utilize these same pathways to promote malignancy and drive tumor progression. Our recent studies have uncovered an important regulatory molecule (Trop2) that is expressed on a subset of prostate cancer cells capable of regenerating tumors. Trop2 expression is selected for in advanced disease and predicts poor prognosis for many tumors including prostate, ovarian, pancreatic, breast, gastric and colorectal cancer. We predict that blocking Trop2 and other regulatory signaling pathways will be an effective strategy to prevent disease progression in prostate and other human cancers.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

In 2012 alone in the state of California, an estimated 29,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and almost 3,400 men will die from the disease. The advanced stages of prostate cancer are treated with hormonal therapy which causes significant changes in mood, body weight and composition, impotence and gynecomastia in addition to the pain and suffering from the disease. Our proposed experiments will define new therapeutic targets and combinatorial therapies with the potential to significantly extend life and minimize suffering of men with advanced prostate cancer. Many of the molecules that we are investigating are implicated in a range of tumors, suggesting that our findings may provide benefit to patients suffering from numerous cancers.

Progress Report: 
  • Stem cells are characterized by longevity, self-renewal throughout the lifetime of a tissue or organism and the ability to generate all lineages of a tissue. Pathways involved in stem cell function are commonly dysregulated in cancer. Emerging evidence in leukemias and epithelial cancers suggests that tumors can be maintained by self-renewing cancer stem cells (CSCs), defined functionally by their ability to regenerate tumors. Delineating mechanisms that regulate self-renewal in human CSCs are essential to design new therapeutic strategies to combat cancer.
  • We have developed an in vivo tissue-regeneration model of primary human prostate cancer and identified two distinct populations of CSCs that can self-renew and serially propagate tumors. Both CSC subsets express the transmembrane protein Trop2. We have previously shown that Trop2 is a marker and a new regulator of stem/progenitor activity in the prostate. Trop2 controls self-renewal, proliferation and tissue hyperplasia through two cleavage products—intracellular domain (ICD) and extracellular domain (ECD) generated by regulated intramembrane proteolysis (RIP). RIP of Trop2 is carried out by TACE metalloprotease and gamma-secretase complex.
  • We have also demonstrated that cleaved Trop2 ICD is found in human prostate cancer but not in the cancer-adjacent benign tissue, suggesting a role for Trop2 cleavage in tumorigenesis. Now we are generating antibodies that will block Trop2 cleavage and activation. Blocking Trop2 signaling will be an effective strategy to prevent disease progression not only in the prostate but also in other epithelial cancers.
  • Stem cells are characterized by longevity, self-renewal throughout the lifetime of a tissue or organism and the ability to generate all lineages of a tissue. Pathways involved in stem cell function are commonly dysregulated in cancer. Emerging evidence in leukemias and epithelial cancers suggests that tumors can be maintained by self-renewing cancer stem cells (CSCs), defined functionally by their ability to regenerate tumors. Delineating mechanisms that regulate self-renewal in human CSCs are essential to design new therapeutic strategies to combat cancer.
  • We have developed an in vivo tissue-regeneration model of primary human prostate cancer and identified two distinct populations of CSCs that can self-renew and serially propagate tumors. Both CSC subsets express the transmembrane protein Trop2. We have previously shown that Trop2 is a marker and a new regulator of stem/progenitor activity in the prostate. Trop2 controls self-renewal, proliferation and tissue hyperplasia through two cleavage products—intracellular domain (ICD) and extracellular domain (ECD) generated by regulated intramembrane proteolysis (RIP). RIP of Trop2 is carried out by TACE metalloprotease and gamma-secretase complex.
  • We have also demonstrated that cleaved Trop2 ICD is found in human prostate cancer but not in the cancer-adjacent benign tissue, suggesting a role for Trop2 cleavage in tumorigenesis. So far we generated seventeen antibodies against Trop2. Currently we are testing the inhibitory effect of the antibodies on Trop2 cleavage and activation. Blocking Trop2 signaling will be an effective strategy to prevent disease progression not only in the prostate but also in other epithelial cancers.
Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06036
Investigator: 
Institution: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 244 455
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. They are serious causes of illness and death, and are particularly devastating in children and the elderly. Despite substantial advances in treatment of leukemia, a significant proportion of cases are unresponsive to current therapy. Since more aggressive chemotherapy regimens provide only marginal improvements in therapeutic efficacy, we have reached a point of diminishing returns using currently available drugs. Thus, there is an urgent need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. To this end, our studies focus on defining the defects that corrupt the normal growth controls on blood stem cells. The proposed studies build on our discovery of a key enzyme with an unexpected causative role in leukemia. We propose to further characterize its function using various proteomic approaches, and employ a cross-species comparative approach to identify additional pathways unique to cancer stem cell function. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. They result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Despite many attempts to improve treatments with new drug combinations, this approach has reached a point of diminishing returns since intensified chemotherapies contribute only marginal improvement in outcome and are associated with increasing toxicity. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.

Progress Report: 
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. Even patients who are successfully cured of their disease often suffer from long-term deleterious health effects of their curative treatment. Thus, there is a need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. Our studies focus on the defects and mechanisms that induce leukemia by disrupting the normal growth controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Using a comparative genomics approach we have identified genes that are differentially expressed in leukemia stem cells. These genes have been the focus of our studies to establish better biomarkers and treatment targets. One candidate gene codes for an enzyme with a previously unknown, non-canonical causal role in a specific genetic subtype of leukemia caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. To characterize its molecular contributions, we are identifying and characterizing protein partners that may assist and interact with the enzyme in its oncogenic role. Candidate interaction partners have been identified using proteomic techniques, and are being investigated for their possible mechanistic roles in leukemia stem cell functions. Another promising candidate that we identified in the comparative gene expression approach encodes a cell surface protein that is preferentially expressed on leukemia stem cells. We have exploited this cell surface protein as a marker to isolate the rare population of cells in human leukemias with stem cell properties. This technical approach has resulted in the isolation of leukemia stem cell populations that are more highly enriched than those obtained using previous techniques. The highly enriched sub-population of leukemia stem cells has been used for comparative gene expression profiling to define a dataset of genes that are differentially expressed between highly matched populations of leukemia cells that are enriched or depleted of leukemia stem cells. Bioinformatics analysis of the dataset has further suggested specific cellular processes and transcriptional regulatory factors that distinguish human leukemia stem cells caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. These newly identified factors will be studied using in vitro and in vivo assays for their specific contributions to leukemia stem cell function and leukemia pathogenesis. Continued characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. Even patients who are successfully cured of their disease often suffer from long-term adverse health effects of their curative treatment. Thus, there is a need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. Our studies focus on the defects and mechanisms that induce leukemia by disrupting the normal growth controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Using a comparative genomics approach we have identified genes that are differentially expressed in leukemia stem cells. These genes have been the focus of our studies to establish better biomarkers and treatment targets. One candidate gene codes for an enzyme with a previously unknown, non-canonical causal role in a specific genetic subtype of leukemia induced by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. To characterize its molecular contributions, we have identified protein partners that may assist and interact with the enzyme in its oncogenic role. Candidate partners are being investigated for their possible mechanistic roles in leukemia stem cell functions. Another promising candidate identified in our comparative gene expression approach encodes a cell surface protein that is preferentially expressed on leukemia stem cells. We have utilized this cell surface protein as a marker to isolate the rare population of cells in human leukemias with stem cell properties. This technical approach has resulted in the isolation of leukemia stem cell populations that are more highly enriched than those obtained using previous techniques. The highly enriched sub-population of leukemia stem cells has been used for comparative gene expression profiling to identify genes that are differentially expressed between highly matched populations of leukemia cells that are enriched or depleted of leukemia stem cells. Bioinformatics analysis of the dataset has identified major cell cycle differences that distinguish human leukemia stem cells induced by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. The distinctive cell cycle characteristics of the cells have been confirmed in functional assays for their specific contributions to leukemia stem cell function and leukemia pathogenesis. These studies are the first to mechanistically link a cell surface protein with regulation of self-renewal, a key attribute of leukemia stem cells. Continued characterization of the crucial growth controllers that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Planning I
Grant Number: 
DR2-05373
Investigator: 
Institution: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$109 750
Disease Focus: 
Brain Cancer
Cancer
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

Glioblastoma multiforme is the most prevalent and aggressive type of brain tumor, and devastating to any patient unfortunate enough to receive its diagnosis. As the most populous state in the nation, more Californians are diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme than any other state. Over the past 20 years, surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy have been utilized with frustrating results. Today, even with the most advanced treatments available, survival rates average only 14-15 months.
Our proposed research focuses on a new theory that brain tumor cells are initiated and maintained by a small fraction of cells with stem cell-like properties. This “cancer stem cell” hypothesis states that if this small subset of cancer stem cells could be eliminated then the tumor would cease to grow. Cancer stem cells in glioblastoma have been identified using CD133, a well known marker for isolating normal neural stem cells. The fact that CD133 is present on normal stem cells means that only targeting this molecule would be potentially dangerous. To enhance targeting, we reasoned that a cancer-specific alteration found in glioblastoma could be used as a potential marker for cancer stem cells. EGFRvIII is a specific variant of the normal EGF receptor and is widely found in glioblastoma but is rarely present in normal tissues. We have now shown that tumor cells that express both CD133 and EGFRvIII have the most cancer stem cell properties—more so than cells that have CD133 or EGFRvIII alone. We then developed a “bispecific” antibody that simultaneously recognizes both of these markers and we have shown that this bispecific selectively kills the cancer cells in glioblastoma tumors that express both CD133 and EGFRvIII. However, the bispecific did not kill normal stem cells. These results are very promising and suggest that bispecific can be tested as a therapeutic for glioblastoma.

To move this into patients, we will produce large quantities of the bispecific and perform rigorous tests to ensure that it is uniform and has the required properties. We will also determine that it is safe through a combination of cell based and animal studies. Extensive planning will be made for the correct format for the clinical trial to test this molecule. Once the properties of the bispecific are certified and plans for the clinical trial are finalized, we will submit the drug to the FDA for an Investigational New Drug application. Once approved by the FDA, we can then move forward with testing this compound in glioblastoma patients. We are particularly excited about the bispecific as it could serve as the paradigm for a new class of drugs that specifically target cancer stem cells.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Glioblastoma is a devastating diagnosis. The most common and malignant form of brain cancer, the most aggressive treatments currently available yield an average survival of only 14-15 months. As the most populous state in the nation, more Californians are diagnosed with glioblastoma each year than any other state, with a consequent significant economic toll to the state as well as its emotional toll.
As the leader in cutting edge biomedical research, California through CIRM has recognized the unmet need to provide a roadmap for the translation of stem cell research to clinical applications. Through CIRM there is an unparalleled opportunity to foster clearly-defined discovery that will not only benefit Californians with glioblastomas, but potentially those with many other cancers, and ultimately all Californians, through healthier citizens, increased employment opportunities, and reduced economic burdens.
We have previously shown that two markers of cancer stem cells, CD133 and EGFRvIII, are tightly associated in glioblastoma tumors. We created a recombinant bispecific antibody (BsAb) selectively targeting CD133 and EGFRvIII. This antibody selectively kills glioblastoma tumor cells but not healthy cells. When glioblastoma cells pre-treated with BsAb were injected into mice, tumor formation was significantly reduced, strongly suggesting that targeting of the EGFRvIII/CD133 cancer stem cell population can inhibit glioblastoma formation.
The key objective of our project is to identify efficient and high yield methods for BsAb production, identify an effective dose and route of delivery for the treatment of brain tumors, and evaluate any potential effects on cells/tissues that express CD133. Our goal is to ready the BsAb for investigational new drug-related development.
Californians will benefit from this research project in several significant ways.
1) Most importantly, this research has the promise to dramatically extend the long-term survival rates for Californians with glioblastomas, with potential applications to multiple other human cancers.
2) The research will take place in California with direct benefit to the California economy through the hiring of employees and purchase of supplies and reagents.
3) With successful completion of the proposed project, a clinical trial will be the direct next step, requiring additional employees along with associated expenditures.
4) If the therapeutic BsAb generated is commercialized, profits derived from the production of the BsAbs by CIRM policy will result in improved treatments to insured patients and lower cost treatments to the uninsured, thus ultimately benefiting all Californians.
5) Finally, funding this research will help raise awareness of California’s prominence as a national and international leader in stem cell research with the potential to benefit glioblastoma patients world-wide.

Progress Report: 
  • During the funding period, we were able to identify a project manager, Mauri Okamoto-Kearney, MBA who was then able to engage various consultants for all areas needed to write the Disease Team Proposal. We held various meetings with several CROs and CMOs to identify the best facility and processes for carrying out the manufacture and testing of the product. Following our fact gathering process, we used further personnel to write and assemble the final proposal.
Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Planning I
Grant Number: 
DR2-05309
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$110 000
Disease Focus: 
Melanoma
Cancer
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

Science has made great progress in the treatment of certain cancers with targeted and combination therapies, yet prolonged remissions or cures are rare because most cancer therapies only inhibit cell growth and/or reduce such growth but do not stop the cancer.

The study investigators propose to develop an Investigational New Drug (IND) and fully accrue a phase I clinical trial within the grant period to genetically redirect the patient’s immune response to specifically attack the cancer starting from hematopoietic (blood) stem cells (HSC) in patients with advanced forms of the aggressive skin cancer malignant melanoma. Evaluation of immune system reconstitution, effectiveness and immune response during treatment will use imaging with Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans.

The HSC treatment approach has been validated in extensive studies in the laboratory. The investigators of this grant have recently initiated a clinical trial where adult immune cells obtained from blood are genetically modified to become specific killer cells for melanoma. These cells are administered back to patients. The early data from this study is encouraging in terms of the ability to generate these cells, safely administer them to patients leading to beneficial early clinical effects. However, the adult immune cells genetically redirected to attack cancer slowly decrease over time and lose their killer activity, mainly because they do not have the ability to self-renew.

The advantage of the proposed HSC method over adult blood cells is that the genetically modified HSC will continuously generate melanoma-targeted immune killer cells, hopefully providing prolonged protection against the cancer. The IND filing with the FDA will use the modified HSC in advanced stage melanoma patients. By the end of year 4, we will have fully accrued this phase 1 clinical trial and assessed the value of genetic modification of HSCs to provide a stable reconstitution of a cancer-fighting immune system. The therapeutic principles and procedures we develop will be applicable to a wide range of cancers and transferrable to other centers that perform bone marrow and HSC transplants.

The aggressive milestone-driven IND timeline is based on our:
1) Research that led to the selection and development of a blood cell gene for clinical use in collaboration with the leading experts in the field,
2) Our wealth of investigator-initiated cell-based clinical research and the Human Gene Medicine Program (largest in the world with 5% of all patients worldwide),
3) Experience filing a combined 15 investigator initiated INDs for research with 157 patients enrolled in phase I and II trials, and
4) Ability to leverage significant institutional resources of on-going HSC laboratory and clinical research and contribute ~$1M of non-CIRM funds to pursue the proposed research goals, including the resulting clinical trial.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Cancer is the leading cause of death in the US and melanoma incidence is increasing fastest (~69K new cases/year). Treatment of metastatic melanoma is an unmet local and national medical need (~9K deaths/year) striking adults in their prime (20-60 years old). Melanoma is the second greatest cancer cause of lost productive years given its incidence early in life and its high mortality once it metastasizes. The problem is severe in California, with large populations with skin types sensitive to the increased exposure to ultraviolet light. Most frequently seen in young urban Caucasians, melanoma also strikes other ethnicities, i.e., steady increases of acral melanoma in Latinos and African-Americans over the past decades.

Although great progress has been made in the treatment of certain leukemias and lymphomas with targeted and combination therapies, few options exist for the definitive treatment of late stage solid tumors. When cancers like lung, breast, prostate, pancreas, and melanoma metastasize beyond surgical boundaries, prolonged remissions or cures are rare and most cancer therapies only inhibit cell growth and/or reduce such growth but do not stop the cancer.

Our proposal, the filing of an IND and the conduct of a phase 1 clinical trial using genetically modified autologous hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) for the immunotherapy of advanced stage melanoma allowing sustained production of cancer-reactive immune cells, has the potential to address a significant and serious unmet clinical need for the treatment of melanoma and other cancers, increase patient survival and productivity, and decrease cancer-related health care costs.

The advantage of the proposed HSC methodology over our current work with peripheral blood cells is that genetically modified stem cells will continuously generate melanoma-targeted immune cells in the patient’s body providing prolonged protection against the cancer. The therapeutic principles and procedures developed here will be applicable to a wide range of cancers. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) reagents and clinical protocols developed by our team will be transferable to other centers where bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation procedures are done.

Progress Report: 
  • The planning award funds were entirely dedicated to the establishment of the disease team for the full award submission. This has included:
  • - Hiring the project leader, Dr. Phyllis Wu.
  • - Organization of the cell therapy manufacturing, quality assurance, and clinical groups.
  • - A meeting of the external advisory board.
  • - A site visit to the lentiviral vector manufacturing facility.
  • With these activities we were able to assemble and submit the full CIRM DT-2 application to pursue a translational research project based on the genetic programming of hematopoietic stem cells to become cancer-targeted by the insertion of T cell receptor (TCR) genes.
Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Planning I
Grant Number: 
DR2-05327
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$74 195
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
HIV/AIDS
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is still a major health problem. In both developed and underdeveloped nations, millions of people are infected with this virus. HIV infects cells of the immune system, becomes part of the cell’s genetic information, stays there for the rest of the life of these cells, and uses these cells as a factory to make more HIV. In this process, the immune cells get destroyed. Soon a condition called AIDS, the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome sets in where the immune system cannot fight common infections. If left untreated, death from severe infections occurs within 8 to 10 years. Although advances in treatment using small molecule drugs have extended the life span of HIV infected individuals, neither a cure for HIV infection nor a well working vaccine could be developed. Drug treatment is currently the only option to keep HIV infected individuals alive. Patients have to take a combination of drugs daily and reliably for the rest of their lives. If not taken regularly, HIV becomes resistant to the drugs and continues to destroy immune cells. What makes this situation even more complicated is the fact that many patients cannot take these drugs due to severe side effects.
Stem cell gene therapy for HIV may offer an alternative treatment. Blood forming stem cells, also called bone marrow stem cells make all blood cells of the body, including immune system cells such as T cells and macrophages that HIV destroys. If “anti-HIV genes” were inserted into the genetic information of bone marrow stem cells, these genes would be passed on to all new immune cells and make them resistant to HIV. Anti-HIV gene containing immune cells can now multiply in the presence of HIV and fight the virus. In previous and current stem cell gene therapy clinical trials for HIV, only one anti-HIV gene has been used. Our approach, however, will use a combination of three anti-HIV genes which are much more potent. They will not only prevent HIV from entering an immune cell but will also prevent HIV from mutating, since it would have to escape the anti-HIV effect of three genes, similar to triple combination anti-HIV drug therapy. To demonstrate safety and effectiveness of our treatment, we will perform a clinical trial in HIV lymphoma patients. In such patients, the destruction of the immune system by HIV led to the development of a cancer of the lymph nodes called B cell lymphoma. High dose chemotherapy together with the transplantation of the patient’s own bone marrow stem cells cures B cell lymphoma. We will insert anti-HIV genes in the patient’s bone marrow stem cells and then transplant these gene containing cells into the HIV infected lymphoma patient. The gene containing bone marrow stem cells will produce a new immune system and newly arising immune cells will be resistant to HIV. In this case, we have not only cured the patient's cancer but have also given the patient an HIV resistant immune system which will be able to fight HIV.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

As of September 30, 2010, over 198,883 cumulative HIV/AIDS cases were reported in California. Another 40,000 un-named cases of HIV were also reported before 2006 although some of them may be duplicates of the named HIV cases. Patients living with HIV/AIDS totaled 108,986 at the end of September 2010. These numbers continue to grow since new cases of HIV and AIDS are being reported on a daily basis and patients now live much longer. In fact, after New York, California has the second highest number of HIV cases in the nation. Although the current and improved anti-retroviral small molecule drugs have prolonged the life of these patients, they still have to deal with the emotional, financial, and medical consequences of this disease. The fear of side effects and the potential generation of drug resistant strains of HIV is a constant struggle that these patients have to live with for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, not every patient with HIV responds to treatment and not every complication of HIV dissipates upon starting a drug regimen. In fact, the risk of some AIDS-related cancers still remains high despite the ongoing drug therapy. Additionally, in the current economic crisis, the financial burden of the long term treatment of these patients on California taxpayers is even more obvious. In 2006, the lifetime cost of taking care of an HIV patient was calculated to be about $618,900. Most of this was related to the medication cost. With the introduction of new HIV medications that have a substantially higher price and with the increase in the survival of HIV/AIDS patients, the cost of taking care of these patients can be estimated to be very high.
The proposed budget cuts and projected shortfall in the California AIDS assistant programs such as ADAP will make the situation worse and could result in catastrophic consequences for patients who desperately need this of kind of support. Consequently, improved therapeutic approaches and the focus on developing a cure for HIV infected patients are issues of great importance to the people of California.
Our proposed anti-HIV stem cell gene therapy strategy comprises the modification of autologous hematopoietic blood forming stem cells with a triple combination of potent anti-HIV genes delivered by a single lentiviral vector construct. This approach would engineer a patient’s immune cells in a way to make them completely resistant to HIV infection. By transplanting these anti-HIV gene expressing stem cells back into an HIV infected patient, the ability of HIV to further replicate and ravage the patient’s immune system would be diminished. The prospect of such a stem cell based therapy which may require only a single treatment to cure an HIV infected patient and which would last for the life of the individual would be especially compelling to the HIV community and the people of California.

Progress Report: 
  • HIV is still a major health problem. In both developed and underdeveloped nations, millions of people are infected with this virus. If left untreated, death from severe infections occurs within 8 to 10 years. Although advances in treatment using small molecule drugs have extended the life span of HIV infected individuals, neither a cure for HIV infection nor a well working vaccine could be developed. Drug treatment is currently the only option to keep HIV infected individuals alive. Patients have to take a combination of drugs daily and reliably for the rest of their lives. If not taken regularly, HIV becomes active again and may even become resistant to the drugs and continues to destroy immune cells. What makes this situation even more complicated is the fact that many patients cannot take these drugs due to severe side effects. Stem cell gene therapy for HIV may offer an alternative treatment. If “anti-HIV genes” were inserted into the genetic information of bone marrow stem cells, these genes would be passed on to all new immune cells and make them resistant to HIV. Anti-HIV gene containing immune cells can now multiply in the presence of HIV and fight the virus. In our approach, we are planning to use a combination of three anti-HIV genes which are much more potent. They will not only prevent HIV from entering an immune cell but will also prevent HIV from mutating, since it would have to escape the anti-HIV effect of three genes, similar to triple combination anti-HIV drug therapy. To demonstrate safety and effectiveness of our treatment, we have proposed a clinical trial in HIV lymphoma patients with stem cell gene therapy incorporated into their routine treatment with high dose chemotherapy together with the transplantation. The fund provided by CIRM (California Institute for Regenerative Medicine) gave us the opportunity to put together a panel of experts within the University of California at Davis and another panel of international experts in the area of gene therapy (an external advisory board). Intense discussion in multiple meeting with members of these two panels as well as many other meetings with individual researches within our institution resulted in the design of a clinical trial for treating patients with HIV disease using our gene therapy approach. It further helped us to identify the necessary means needed to support such a regulatory intensive gene therapy trial. To be able to recruit enough patients for such a trial, we used the funds from this planning grant for several presentations to our colleagues in other institutions for a multi-institutional clinical trial approach. The funds provided to us through this grant helped to calculate the budget required to 1) finish our application with Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to obtain the appropriate license for starting such a trial and 2) to manufacture the target drug and 3) to run the actual clinical trial. Finally, with the help of this grant, we have put together a CIRM disease grant proposal and have applied for necessary funds based on the above calculation.
  • The original progress report was submitted to the CIRM on March 1st 2012. The no cost extension was requested to perform the necessary work related to further development of our clinical trial before submission to RAC. During this period, in multiple meetings we rewrote our clinical trial based on the comments of our external advisory board and other consultants. We submitted our clinical trial protocol and Appendix M to RAC committee and after receiving their preliminary comments, we formulated our response. As the last step, we presented our clinical trial to the members of RAC committee and received a unanimous approval to move forward with the IND application to FDA.
Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Planning I
Grant Number: 
DR2-05352
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$65 120
Disease Focus: 
Cancer
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 

A important benefit of the tremendous progress in stem cell research has been the recognition that stem cell pathways are frequently re-activated in cancer cells conferring stem cell-like properties on a subset of tumor cells. This understanding is the basis for the emerging field of cancer stem cell (CSC) research.
The cancer stem cell paradigm is a new approach in cancer research that has profound implications for new anti-cancer drug development. It is now widely understood that tumors are comprised of different cell types. Experimental evidence has accumulated from many laboratories indicating that different tumor cells vary dramatically in their ability to grow a new tumor. The tumor cells capable of re-growing a new tumor are the CSCs, whereas the bulk of the tumor cells lack this capacity. This property of seeding new tumor growth is analogous to the growth of distant metastases that is a major cause of mortality in cancer patients. The highly tumorigenic cells CSCs share certain properties with normal stem cells, but have accumulated cancer causing mutations clearly making them abnormal. It is now widely appreciated that may current therapies fail to effectively target the CSC population, and thus the CSCs mediate recurrence of disease after treatment. New drugs that target CSCs to kill them or cause them to differentiate into less dangerous, non-tumorigenic cells have the potential to provide significant benefit to patients and to dramatically improve cancer treatment.
This project is focused on developing a new anti-cancer drug that has been shown to effectively block CSC self renewal in a variety of common types of cancer. New therapeutic agents that are effective in targeting cancer stem cells may reduce metastases and relapse after treatment thus providing a chance for improved long term survival of cancer patients. In the first phase of the project, we will complete the manufacturing of the drug for subsequent use in clinical trial and also execute safety studies that are necessary before initiating clinical trials. Next, we will test the safety of the drug in patients in Phase 1 clinical trials. Lastly, we will determine the efficacy in breast cancer patients in Phase 2 trials. This project will utilize innovative clinical trial designs to identify the patient populations most likely to benefit from treatment with this new treatment. We intend to focus our clinical testing on an important subset of women with breast cancer for whom effective therapies are currently lacking. Our project is a unique partnership of industry and academic researchers and clinicians dedicated to bringing new medicines to patients most in need of effective therapy.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

This project will benefit the state of California and its citizens in several significant ways. The goal of the work funded by this grant is to develop a new cancer treatment. This agent attacks cancer stem cells - the most dangerous type of tumor cells because they have the unique ability to resist many current therapies and re-grow and metastasize to distant sites in the body. The funds from this study will be used to support innovative drug development and clinical testing in women with advanced breast cancer. Thus, this therapy will benefit cancer patients with a critical need for new treatment options. We have observed that agents that reduce cancer stem cells in tumors also inhibit the spread of metastatic disease. Patients with advanced cancers which have disseminated to distant organs typically require high cost hospital stays. Our new treatment is intended to ameliorate the incidence and relapse of metastatic cancer, thus reducing the requirement for hospitalization and associated specialized care for this class of advanced cancer patients.

In addition to the medical benefits of this project, funds from this grant will create and maintain high quality jobs in the state of California. California has been a recognized leader in biomedical research over the past several decades because of its excellent academic institutions and innovative companies attracting researchers from all over the country and the world. Many companies have made significant investments in establishing research facilities in California. Thus, biomedical research generates significant economic activity in the state. Continued leadership in the life sciences field relies on being at the forefront of cutting edge fields that are focal points of research interest and investment. Novel anti-cancer therapeutics, in general, and cancer stem cell-based therapeutic approaches, in particular, are excellent examples of important and innovative directions in drug development. CIRM will provide an important source of funding to support cancer stem cell therapeutics which hold the promise of becoming breakthrough medications in cancer treatment.

Progress Report: 
  • Our project is focused on developing a new anti-cancer drug that has been shown to effectively block cancer stem cell (CSC) self renewal in a variety of major tumor types. During the reporting period our group made significant advances on several fronts in advancing our novel stem cell directed therapy toward clinical development. In particular, we have associated cancer causing mutations in breast cancer in the molecular target of our therapeutic and shown that tumors bearing this type of mutation are exquisitely sensitive to our treatment. Based on this discovery, we have developed methodologies and reagents to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from treatment with our agent. Thus, this project is an excellent example of how "personalized medicine" is becoming a reality in cancer drug development. Furthermore, our results highlight the promise of targeting inappropriate activation of stem cell pathways as new strategy in cancer treatment.
  • During the reporting period we have assembled an experienced team of scientists and clinicians at our institution and also at collaborating institutions to execute the pre-clinical and clinical development of our new anti-cancer treatment. We have developed a detailed clinical strategy which involves a close collaboration between academic medical centers and the biotech industry. We have planned a series of clinical trials which will test the safety and efficacy of our anti-cancer drug and also test our hypothesis regarding selecting patients most likely to respond to treatment. This trials will take place at multiple sites including several in California.
  • In addition, we have made tremendous and tangible progress in advancing our therapeutic toward clinical testing. These steps include the completion of GMP manufacture of the drug for IND-enabling safety studies and for use in subsequent Phase 1 clinical trials and the initiation of IND-enabling safety studies.
Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05217
Investigator: 
Name: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 375 983
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.

To approach this question we will use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.

Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.

The findings from these studies will have broad applicability to the production of other types of tissues from pluripotent stem cells, all of which have stem cells that require interaction with a specialized niche. In addition to the biological questions explored in this proposal, our focus on the blood system has direct clinical relevance to the field of bone marrow and cord blood transplantation. The development of a human hematopoietic niche from pluripotent stem cells could potentially be used to expand hematopoietic stem cells from adult tissues like cord blood. Most importantly, the ability to control differentiation from pluripotent stem cells into the blood lineage could provide an unlimited source of matched cells for transplantation for patients with leukemia and other diseases of the bone marrow and the immune system who currently lack suitable donors.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

The unique combination of pluripotentiality and unlimited capacity for proliferation has raised the hope that pluripotent stem cells will one day provide an inexhaustible source of tissue for transplantation and regeneration. Diseases that might be treated from such tissues affect millions of Californians and their families. However, much is still to be learned about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and better controlled than is currently the case.

The research proposed in this application has broad potential benefits for Californians both through the biological questions it will answer and the relevance of these studies for clinical translation. Our goal is to understand the way the microenvironment influences tissue production from pluripotent stem cells, a critical issue for the field of stem cell biology. Specifically we will explore the question- Do the cell types produced during differentiation of pluripotent stem cells produce an adequate microenvironment for the differentiation of tissue or are some cells inhibitory to tissue production? Our approach to these questions will be to use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to study these questions rigorously. However, the fundamental concepts formed from these studies will have great relevance for the clinical production of other types of tissues from pluripotent stem cells, such as islets, neural cells and cardiac muscle.

In addition to the broad biological questions explored in this proposal, our focus on the blood system has direct clinical relevance to the field of bone marrow and cord blood transplantation. One goal in the proposal is to generate a cellular platform from pluripotent stem cells that will create an environment in which adult blood stem cells can grow and be expanded. Cell numbers collected from cord blood at birth are often insufficient for transplantation in adult patients and older children. The development of a human cell culture system that could expand the number of cord blood stem cells would provide new opportunities for transplantation for patients with leukemia and other diseases of the bone marrow and the immune system who currently lack suitable donors. All scientific findings and technical tools developed in this proposal will be made available to researchers throughout California, under the guidelines from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Progress Report: 
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the first year of support, we have made significant progress in the first two specific aims. We have developed a method that allows us to track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment. We also have identified subsets of cells generated from pluripotent cells that have distinct functions in blood formation. Our plan during the next year is to fully characterize these subsets to understand how they function, and to improve our methods to expand them in culture.
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the second year of support, we have made significant progress in all three specific aims. We continue to refine our method that allows us to track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment during development. We have identified subsets of cells generated from pluripotent cells that can support cord blood HSC and now we are determining the mechanisms by which these cells act and how they can be best used to support HSC that develop from PSC.
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the third year of support, we have made significant progress in all three specific aims. We have now completed our studies that track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment. We have performed functional studies to identify which of the cell types that we generate from pluripotent cells support HSC when grown in culture, and which do not. Finally we have performed gene expression analyses on these different cell types to understand the molecular pathways that they use to support HSC in culture.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01816-A
Investigator: 
Type: 
PI
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 607 305
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 

Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells.
In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an “proliferation phase” and a “quiescence phase”. The “proliferation phase” is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in “quiescence phase” divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia. We discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings demonstrate that the "quiescence phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "quiescence phase".
In this proposal, we test a novel therapeutic concept eradicate leukemia stem cells: We propose that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases (“proliferation”) and BCL6 (“quiescence”) represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Leukemia represents the most frequent malignancy in children and teenagers and is common in adults as well. Over the past four decades, the development of therapeutic options has greatly improved the prognosis of patients with leukemia reaching 5 year disease-free survival rates of ~70% for children and ~45% for adults. Despite its relatively favorable overall prognosis, leukemia remains one of the leading causes of person-years of life lost in the US (362,000 years in 2006; National Center of Health Statistics), which is attributed to the high incidence of leukemia in children.
In 2008, the California Cancer Registry expected 3,655 patients with newly diagnosed leukemia and at total of 2,185 death resulting from fatal leukemia. In addition, ~23,300 Californians lived with leukemia in 2008, which highlights that leukemia remains a frequent and life-threatening disease in the State of California despite substantial clinical progress. Here we propose the development of a fundamentally novel treatment approach for leukemia that is directed at leukemia stem cells. While current treatment approaches effectively diminish the bulk of proliferating leukemia cells, they fail to eradicate the rare leukemia stem cells, which give rise to drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. We propose a dual targeting approach which combines targeted therapy of the leukemia-causing oncogene and the newly discovered leukemia stem cell survival factor BCL6. The power of this new therapy approach will be tested in clinical trials to be started in the State of California.

Progress Report: 
  • Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells. In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an "expansion phase" and a "dormancy phase". The "expansion phase" is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "domancy phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia.
  • Progress during Year 1: During the first year of this project, we discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings during year 1 demonstrate that the "dormancy phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "dormancy phase" .
  • In year 1, we have performed screening procedures to identify novel therapeutic BCL6 inhibitors to eradicate leukemia stem cells: We have found that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases ("expansion phase" ) and BCL6 ("dormancy phase") represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease.
  • Goal for years 2-3: Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.
Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01789
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 341 758
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 

Cancer is the leading cause of death for individuals under 85. Relapse and metastatic disease are the leading causes of cancer related mortality. Anti-apoptotic BCL2 family member overexpression has been shown to promote disease progression in both chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and prostate cancer. Andr., the emergence of cancer stem cells (CSC) promotes apoptosis resistance in the bone marrow metastatic microenvironment. While targeted therapy with BCR-ABL inhibitors has improved survival of patients with chronic phase CML, the prevalence has doubled since 2001 with over 22,000 people living with CML in the US in 2009. Unfortunately, a growing proportion of patients become intolerant or simply cannot afford full dose BCR-ABL inhibitor therapy and thus, progress to advanced phase disease with a 5 year survival rate of less than 30%. Although prostate cancer prevalence was high at 2.26 million in 2007, distant disease was relatively rare at 5%. However, like blast crisis CML, metastatic prostate cancer survival was only 30% over 5 years.
Overexpression of B-cell lymphoma/leukemia-2 (BCL2) family genes has been observed in human blast crisis CML and advanced prostate cancer and may fuel CSC survival. Recent RNA sequencing data demonstrate that human CSC express a panoply of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 isoforms in response to extrinsic signals in vivo, indicating that a pan BCL2 inhibitor will be required to abrogate CSC survival. Through binding and anti-tumor studies, a potent inhibitor of BCL2 pro-survival family proteins, BI-97C1, has been identified which inhibits the binding of BH3 peptides to Bcl-XL, Bcl-2, Mcl-1 and Bfl1-1 with nanomolar IC50 values. Notably, BI-97C1 potently inhibits growth of human prostate cancer in a xenograft model as well as blast crisis CML CSC engrafted in RAG2-/-c-/- mice while exerting minimal cytotoxicity toward bax-/-bak-/- cells. Because BI-97C1 inhibits all six anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members including Bcl-2, Mcl-1 (myeloid cell leukemia 1), Bcl-XL (BCL2L1), Bfl-1 (BCL-2A1), Bcl-W (BCL2L2) and Bcl-B (BCL2L10) proteins, with improved chemical, plasma and microsomal stability relative to apogossypol, we anticipate that it will have clinical utility for targeting apoptosis resistant human CSC in two malignancies with proven reliance on BCL2 signaling – blast crisis CML and advanced prostate cancer.
Thus, anti-apoptotic BCL2 family member inhibition with BI-97C1 could represent a vital component of a potentially curative strategy for advanced malignancies that may obviate the need for costly continuous tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy by increasing sensitivity to therapy. Elimination of CSC contributing to therapeutic resistance, the primary cause of cancer death, is of high clinical importance and thus, development of a small molecule pan-BCL2 inhibitor would fulfill a vital unmet medical need, fuel California biotechnology stem cell R&D efforts and decrease health care costs for patients with cancer.

Statement of Benefit to California: 

Cancer is the leading cause of death for individuals under 85 and usually results from metastatic disease in the setting of therapeutic recalcitrance. Anti-apoptotic BCL2 family member overexpression has been shown to promote disease progression in both chronic myeloid leukemia and prostate cancer. Moreover, the emergence of quiescent cancer stem cells promotes apoptosis resistance in the bone marrow niche for. While targeted BCR-ABL inhibition has resulted in improved survival of patients with chronic phase CML, the prevalence has doubled since 2001 with over 22,000 people living with CML in the US in 2009 (http://www.leukemia-lymphoma.org). Unfortunately, a growing proportion of patients become intolerant or simply cannot afford full dose BCR-ABL inhibitor therapy as a result of spiraling annual costs and thus, progress to advanced phase disease with a 5 year survival rate of less than 30%. Although prostate cancer prevalence was high at 2.26 million in 2007, distant disease was relatively rare at 5%. Like CML, metastatic prostate cancer survival was only 30% over 5 years (http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/prost.html#prevalence <http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/prost.html#prevalence> ). Like blast crisis CML, prostate cancer progression and metastasis is associated with BCL2 overexpression. Thus, anti-apoptotic BCL2 family member inhibition with BI-97C1 could represent a vital component of a potentially curative strategy for advanced malignancies that may obviate the need for costly continuous tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy by increasing sensitivity to therapy. Elimination of CSC contributing to therapeutic resistance, the primary cause of cancer death, is of high clinical importance and thus, development of a small molecule pan-BCL2 inhibitor would fulfill a vital unmet medical need, fuel California biotechnology stem cell R&D efforts and decrease health care costs for patients with cancer.

Progress Report: 
  • Overexpression of Bcl-2 family genes may fuel CSC survival. Recent RNA sequencing data demonstrate that human CSC express a panoply of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 isoforms in response to extrinsic signals in vivo, indicating that a pan Bcl-2 inhibitor will be required to abrogate CSC survival. Sabutoclax inhibits growth of blast crisis CML CSC engrafted in RAG2-/-c-/- mice with minimal cytotoxicity toward bax-/-bak-/- cells. Because sabutoclax inhibits all six antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family members including Bcl-2, Mcl-1, Bcl-XL, Bfl-1, Bcl-W and Bcl-B proteins, with good chemical, plasma and microsomal stability, we anticipate that it will have clinical utility for targeting apoptosis resistant human CSC in malignancies
  • Significant progress against milestones in the first year was accomplished and we have made early progress on several milestones projected for Year 2. During this 6 month reporting period, sabutoclax was licensed by a biotech company, Oncothyreon. The license was previously held by Coronado Biosciences. Dr. Pellecchia (SBMRI ) continues to provide sabutoclax to Dr. Jamieson for use in cellular and in vivo studies. SBMRI conducted QC analyses (integrity and purity) on samples’ used in preclinical studies and provided comparative analyses of compound produced by the CMO produced by different methods of synthesis. Importantly, the sabutoclax manufacturing process was optimized allowing scale-up of drug. In formulation studies, a method was developed and qualified that separates impurities and degradation compounds from sabutoclax for quantitation of the drug. Additional solubility and stability studies were performed by Oncothyreon to identify an IV formulation that could be used for both nonclinical studies and the clinic. Several pilot PK studies in mice, rats and dogs, planned for Year 2, were also conducted by Oncothyreon. Through whole transcriptome RNA sequencing Dr. Jamieson showed that Bcl-W was up-regulated in CP and BC progenitors compared to normal CB progenitors. Previous qRT-PCR results for Mcl-1 were confirmed, showing that the long isoform was preferentially expressed in BC CML. Results for Bcl-2 and Mcl-1 were also confirmed at the protein level by FACS analysis and immunohistochemistry of bone marrow (BM) from mice engrafted with human CML CD34+ LSC.
  • Sabutoclax treatment ablated BC CML progenitor cells in vivo and in vitro. Colony formation of BC CML (vs normal progenitor cells) was decreased by sabutoclax in a dose dependent manner. When CML cells were co-cultured with stromal cells or in stroma conditioned media, BCL-2 mRNA expression was increased and colony formation was improved. Knockdown of endogenous BCL2 in BC CML cells by shRNA resulted in decreased colony formation. Preliminary results suggest that BM is a protective niche for BC CML CSC and that sabutoclax may target these niche protected cells.
  • In BC CML engrafted mice, dasatinib increased quiescent BC CML cell engraftment in mouse BM measured by FACS for cell cycle markers. Sabutoclax decreased BCL-2 and MCL1 protein expression by immunohistochemistry staining and decreased quiescent BC CML CSC in BM however sabutoclax increased TUNEL staining in BM suggesting that while dasatinib may increase the number of quiescent BC CML CSC, sabutoclax may do the reverse.
  • High doses of sabutoclax administered in combination with dasatinib resulted in a significant decrease in human cell engraftment in BM versus dasatinib alone. Mice serially transplanted with tissues from combination treated mice had increased survival compared to serial transplants of single agent treated tissues. Human CD34+ cells from the BM of combination treated mice had more cells in cycle than CD34+ cells compared to the BM of mice treated with dasatinib alone. The frequency of CD34+BCL2+ and CD34+MCL1+ BC LSC were significantly lower in BM treated with a combination of sabutoclax and dasatinib suggesting that sabutoclax and dasatinib may act synergistically to increase survival of BC CML engrafted mice.
  • Dormant cancer stem cells (CSC) contribute to therapeutic resistance and relapse in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and other recalcitrant malignancies. Cumulative data demonstrate that overexpression of BCL2 family pro-survival splice isoforms fuels quiescent CSC survival in human blast crisis (BC) CML. Whole transcriptome RNA sequencing data, apoptosis PCR array and splice isoform specific qRT-PCR demonstrate that human CSC express anti-apoptotic long BCL2 isoforms in response to extrinsic signals in the marrow niche, indicating that a pan BCL2 inhibitor will be required to abrogate CSC survival. Sabutoclax, a novel pan BCL2 inhibitor, prevents survival of BC CSC engrafted in RAG2-/-c-/- mice, commensurate with downregulation of pro-survival BCL2 splice isoforms and proteins, and sensitizes CSC to a BCR-ABL inhibitor, dasatinib, while exerting minimal cytotoxicity toward normal hematopoietic stem cells. Because sabutoclax inhibits all six anti-apoptotic BCL2 family members, with good chemical, plasma and microsomal stability, in addition to a scaleable production process, we anticipate that it will have broad clinical utility for targeting apoptosis resistant quiescent human CSC in a number of recalcitrant malignancies as featured in our recent lead article (Goff D et al, Cell Stem Cell. 2013 Mar 7;12(3):316-28).
  • Significant progress against milestones in the second year was accomplished and we have made early progress on several milestones projected for Year 3. Whole transcriptome RNA sequencing, qRT-PCR array and splice isoform specific qRT-PCR analysis performed on FACS purified progenitors derived from 8 CP, 8 BC and 6 normal samples demonstrated splice isoform switching favoring pro-survival long isoform expression during progression from CP to blast BC CML and in CSC engrafted in the bone marrow (BM) niche. Both human BCL2 and MCL1 protein expression co-localized with engrafted human leukemic CD34+ cells in the bone marrow epiphysis and served as important biomarkers of response to sabutoclax. Importantly, intravenous treatment with sabutoclax reduced BC CML CSC survival in both marrow and splenic niches at doses that spared normal hematopoietic stem cells in RAG2-/-gamma c-/- xenograft models established with cord blood CD34+ cells.
  • While dasatinib treatment alone increased serially transplantable quiescent BC CML CSC in BM, sabutoclax decreased CSC survival commensurate with upregulation of short pro-apoptotic and downregulation of long anti-apopoptotic BCL2 family isoforms. While previous studies involved intraperitoneal administration, in the last 12 months we have focused on a more clinically relevant intravenous (IV) administration schedule with IV sabutoclax administered alone or in combination with oral dasatinib. In these studies, sabutoclax sensitized quiescent CSC to dasatinib resulting in a significant decrease in CSC survival versus dasatinib alone. Moreover, mice serially transplanted with human cells from combination treated mice had increased survival compared to serial transplants of single agent treated tissues. Human CD34+ cells from the BM of combination treated mice had more cells in cycle than CD34+ cells compared to the BM of mice treated with dasatinib alone. The frequency of CD34+BCL2+ and CD34+MCL1+ BC CSC were significantly lower in BM treated with a combination of sabutoclax and dasatinib suggesting that the combination acts synergistically to decrease CSC survival and increase the lifespan of CSC engrafted mice.
  • During this 12-month reporting period, sabutoclax production was successfully scaled up by two separate CMOs, Syncom and Norac. Dr. Pellecchia (SBMRI) provided flash chromatography purified sabutoclax to Dr. Jamieson for use in cellular and in vivo studies in addition to conducting QC analyses (integrity and purity) on scaled up sabutoclax formulations produced by Norac (4g) and Syncom (30g) in different vehicles. In formulation studies, a flash chromatography method was developed and qualified that separates impurities and degradation compounds from sabutoclax. Additional solubility and stability studies were performed to identify an IV Solutol formulation, compared with the previous IP DMSO/PBS Tween formulation, which could be used for both pre-clinical studies and in future clinical trials. Pilot PK studies in mice and rats were conducted with the Solutol formulated sabutoclax and showed weight loss associated with impurities that could be readily removed by standard flash chromatography. As a result, ssabutoclax production will include flash chromatography to enhance purity and stability and this material will be used for further PK and PD studies. In conclusion, we are on track to accomplish our milestones as set forth in the grant and anticipate that sabutoclax will form the basis of combination clinical studies aimed at eradicating quiescent CSC in a broad array of refractory malignancies.
  • Recent cancer stem cell research performed by ourselves and others has bolstered interest in BCL2 family member expression and inhibition in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and breast cancer (Goff DJ et al Cell Stem Cell 2013; Lagadinou ED et al Cell Stem Cell 2013; Vaillant F et al Cancer Cell 2013). Overexpression of pro-survival BCL2 family genes has been linked to therapeutic resistance driven by dormant, self-renewing CSC. Thus, the BCL2 family represents an attractive therapeutic target that may provide the potential to reduce relapse rates. Because of the greater proclivity for alternative splicing in humans compared with mice, our CIRM ETll funded research has focused on whole transcriptome RNA sequencing, splice isoform specific qRT-PCR and BCL2 PCR array analysis of FACS-purified CSC from patients with CML and CSC derived from human blast crisis CML engrafted RAG2-/-gc-/- mouse models.
  • A Pan-BCL2 inhibitor renders bone-marrow-resident human leukemia stem cells sensitive to tyrosine kinase inhibition. Cell Stem Cell. 2013 Mar 7;12(3):316-28) was featured in a lead article in Cell Stem Cell in March. This study also led to a number of disclosures relating to unique self-renewal and survival gene splice isoform based CSC detection and patient prognostication strategies. As a result, pan BCL2 targeting has generated considerable interest from academic and pharmaceutical investigators who would like to adopt the approach of dormant CSC sensitization to agents that target dividing cells, including tyrosine kinase inhibitors, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

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