$20 Million Grant to Develop New Melanoma Treatment and Test it in Clinical Trials Awarded to Scientists
Project Calls for the Genetic Engineering of Blood Stem Cells to Fight Cancer
A team of scientists led by Dr. Antoni Ribas, a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research Center at UCLA and a professor of medicine, were awarded a $20 million grant today to take leading-edge stem cell science from the laboratory and translate it into a new treatment for metastatic melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
In all, eight such grants totaling more than $150 million were awarded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state’s stem cell agency. To date, scientists with the UCLA stem cell center have been awarded 54 grants totaling nearly $174 million since 2005 for human pluripotent and adult stem cell research.
Up to $20 million per applicant, the grants are awarded to teams of researchers in both academia and industry who have been working on projects that represent the best possible chances of producing therapies for deadly and disabling diseases and disorders.
The four-year grants are part of CIRM’s Disease Team Initiative, which seeks to explore new ways to integrate and organize the highest quality basic, translational and clinical research with the aim of developing new therapies and diagnostic tools. As part of the approval process, disease teams must submit an investigational new drug application, or IND, to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration within four years in an effort to fast-track stem cell-related drug development.
Dr. Ribas and his team propose to develop an IND and open and fully enroll a Phase I clinical trial to genetically engineer the patient's immune response to specifically attack the melanoma starting from their blood stem cells. The specialized immune cells use a protein called the T-Cell Receptor (TCR) to seek out and recognize the melanoma. Evaluation of immune system reconstitution, effectiveness and immune response during treatment will be monitored using Positron Emission Tomography scans.