Coriell Institute for Medical Research, Van Andel Institute awarded estimated $12.4 million SPORE grant from National Cancer Institute

Estimated at $12.4 million, this five-year grant supports a nationwide team of researchers investigating epigenetic therapies for cancer

The Coriell Institute for Medical Research and Van Andel Institute (VAI) have been awarded a prestigious Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (or SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute (award P50CA254897). The five-year grant valued at an estimated $12.4 million will support nearly 20 scientists as they work to improve epigenetic therapies for cancer. The project is co-led by Coriell’s President and CEO Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D., Van Andel Institute’s Chief Scientific Officer Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon), and Johns Hopkins University and VAI’s Stephen Baylin, M.D.

NCI utilizes SPORE grants to empower interdisciplinary and collaborative research into specific aspects of cancer. This prestigious grant is the first of its kind at both Coriell and VAI, establishing them as premier institutions for cancer research. The award currently is the only SPORE grant awarded to an organization in New Jersey. This grant, which is also the first to support a thematic SPORE focused on epigenetics in NCI history, can be renewed indefinitely.

“SPORE grants hold a special place in translational cancer research. Through them, the NCI enables groundbreaking work and the trust it puts in the awarded scientists allows for unparalleled freedom and collaboration,” said Dr. Issa. “It’s a true honor to receive this grant and it’s a sign of more exciting things to come for the Coriell Institute.”

Jones, Baylin and Issa also collaborate on the Van Andel Institute (VAI)–Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team, which has launched more than a dozen epigenetic therapy clinical trials in recent years and will support trials from this SPORE. Jones and Baylin co-led both the first iteration of the SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team, which was established in 2009, and co-lead the current team, which was launched in 2014. Much of the SPORE project’s design was informed by SU2C’s collaborative model, which brings together experts and organizations to unite against cancer.

“Epigenetic therapies hold immense potential to shift the paradigm in cancer treatment,” Dr. Jones said. “We’re thrilled to be recipients of a SPORE award, which is an exceptional mechanism for catalyzing collaboration and powering discovery.”

Epigenetic therapy aims to treat cancer by correcting abnormal gene expression. In doing so, these therapies can also make other cancer therapies more effective. This SPORE seeks to improve on current epigenetic therapies by exploring new targets, investigating novel combinations of epigenetic therapies with other cancer treatments, and by designing, and running clinical trials to evaluate these promising strategies.

“Research in the last decade has reinforced the promise of epigenetic therapies both as a standalone treatment strategy and as a way to enhance existing approaches such as immunotherapy,” Baylin said. “The SPORE award will allow us to investigate the underpinnings of epigenetics in cancer, with the goal of translating our findings to the clinic.”

The three research projects in this SPORE include:

  • Project 1: A collaboration between the Coriell Institute and Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine led by Dr. Issa and Hackensack Meridian’s Yi Zhang, Ph.D., a member of the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation and part of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. This group will investigate the potential of a certain group of kinases, enzymes that regulate proteins, as therapeutics targets.
  • Project 2: A collaboration between Baylin and VAI’s Scott Rothbart, Ph.D. This team will investigate a potentially novel therapeutic strategy for treating solid tumors by inhibiting DNMT and EZH1/2 enzymes.
  • Project 3: A collaboration between Ken Nephew, Ph.D., and Kathy Miller, M.D., of Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, and University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Feyruz Rassool, Ph.D. This team will investigate the impact of epigenetic therapy on cancers driven by BRCAness, a major cancer-related vulnerability.

To aid these research projects, the SPORE grant also will support two shared scientific resource cores: A Genomics Core at Coriell Institute and a Pathology and Biorepository Core at VAI. Scientists working on these related research projects can utilize these resources in conducting their work.

Additionally, the SPORE will include the creation of a Career Enhancement Program and a Developmental Research Program, which provide research awards to faculty (inside and outside of the SPORE group) to support recruitment and retention of scientists with a focus of bolstering diversity in the field.

Dr. Issa is also currently an investigator on The Joe Moakley Leukemia SPORE, a program supported by a SPORE grant administered out of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. That grant is in its 18th year.

About the Coriell Institute for Medical Research

Founded in 1953, the Coriell Institute for Medical Research is a nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving human health through biomedical research. Coriell scientists lead research in personalized medicine, cancer biology, epigenetics, and the genomics of opioid use disorder. Coriell also hosts one of the world’s leading biobanks—comprised of collections for the National Institutes of Health, disease foundations and private clients—and distributes biological samples and offers research and biobanking services to scientists around the globe. To facilitate drug discovery and disease study, the Institute also develops and distributes collections of induced pluripotent stem cells. For more information, visit Coriell.org.

About Van Andel Institute

Van Andel Institute (VAI) is committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations through cutting edge biomedical research and innovative educational offerings. Established in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1996 by the Van Andel family, VAI is now home to more than 400 scientists, educators and support staff, who work with a growing number of national and international collaborators to foster discovery. The Institute’s scientists study the origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translate their findings into breakthrough prevention and treatment strategies. Our educators develop inquiry-based approaches for K-12 education to help students and teachers prepare the next generation of problem-solvers, while our Graduate School offers a rigorous, research-intensive Ph.D. program in molecular and cellular biology. Learn more at vai.org.

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Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D.
Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon)
Stephen Baylin, M.D.