Team Archive - Page 5 of 6 - NFCR

Team

Amos B. Smith III, Ph.D.

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Rhodes-Thompson Professor of Chemistry

Research

Dr. Amos B. Smith’s research interests include three diverse scientific areas: natural product synthesis, bioorganic chemistry and materials science. His scientific expertise in the total synthesis of complex natural products has allowed him to collaborate with many researchers across a variety of disciplines.

One current collaboration is with NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Susan B. Horwitz¸ whose work focuses on combatting cancer drug resistance.  Dr. Horwitz’s earlier research discovered the key attributes of Taxol®, a now widely used anti-cancer drug for treating breast, lung and ovarian cancer.  She found that Taxol halts cell division by stabilizing the cellular building blocks known as microtubules.  Intriguingly, Dr. Smith was the first person to synthesize and enable large-scale production of another microtubule stabilizing agent (MSA) called discodermolide—a natural agent that comes from a Caribbean Sea sponge. The two scientists combined their efforts and compared the results of discodermolide to those of Taxol. They found that discodermolide interacts with microtubules in a way that may complement Taxol and could reduce the resistance that many patients experience with Taxol. Dr. Smith has synthesized a library of the hybrid Taxol–discodermolide drugs, and Dr. Horwitz has found two hybrid candidates that could be promising new drugs.

Additionally, Dr. Smith’s lab with non-naturally occurring MSAs includes the heterocyclic compounds triazolopyrimidines and phenylpyrimidines. The work holds considerable promise for the treatment of brain cancer, specifically the most deadly type of brain cancer – glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). The compounds being created penetrate the brain tissue and can be taken orally (unlike more than 95% of all molecules).  Dr. Smith, in collaboration with Dr. Horwitz and other scientists, will elucidate how these compounds stabilize microtubules to set the stage for the development of a potential new treatment for GBM and other central nervous diseases.

Bio

Amos B. Smith III, Ph.D., received his Bachelor and Master’s degrees from Bucknell University and his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, where he was also an associate from 1972-1973.

In addition to his fellowship with NFCR, Dr. Smith is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and member of the ESPCI ParisTech Scientific Council.

Dr. Smith’s laboratory has prepared more than 90 natural products possessing significant bioregulatory properties to date and his research achievements have been reported in more than 500 peer-reviewed publications. In 2015, Dr. Smith was awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Perkin Prize for Organic Chemistry.

Areas of Focus

Cancer Types

Years of NFCR Funding

2016 – Present

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Daniel Von Hoff, M.D.

Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

Phoenix, Arizona
Physician in Chief and Distinguished Professor, TGen
Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic
Professor of Medicine, University of Arizona College of Medicine
Chief Scientific Officer, Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare

Research

Dr. Von Hoff has devoted his career to translational medicine – the movement of new therapies from the research institution to patient care – and has personally been a part of over 200 clinical trials.

Dr. Von Hoff and his colleagues have conducted early clinical investigations of many new cancer agents, including: gemcitabine, docetaxel, paclitaxel, topotecan, irinotecan, fludarabine, mitoxantrone, dexrazoxane, nab-paclitaxel, vismodegib and others. NFCR’s support for Dr. Von Hoff’s research with gemcitabine was profoundly successful as it became the first drug to improve survival for pancreatic patients. Many treatments he worked on are now helping tens of thousands of patients with breast, ovarian, prostate, colon, leukemia, skin (advanced basal cell carcinoma) and pancreatic cancer today.

At the NFCR Center for Targeted Cancer Therapies, Co-Directors Dr. Von Hoff and Dr. Laurence Hurley are currently pioneering new approaches to attack the so-called “undruggable” targets present in many tumors. They have identified multiple new compounds that selectively kill pancreatic cancer cells with mutations in the cancer-causing K-ras gene—which are present in more than 90% of pancreatic tumors. The leading compounds are being further developed for possible clinical translation.

Dr. Von Hoff is also working on an entirely new approach to treating cancer by developing drugs that block newly-recognized genetic structures called “super enhancers.” These large clusters of DNA regulatory elements control the expression of a host of genes — including the critical cancer gene c-Myc – and offer a great opportunity for cancer disruption. This new approach may lead to great improved treatments for pancreatic cancer, lung cancer (small-cell type, in particular), lymphoma, multiple myeloma, colorectal and other cancers.

Bio

Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., attended Carroll College and Columbia University before conducting his residency in internal medicine at UC San Francisco. After that, he had a fellowship in oncology at the National Cancer Institute before joining the faculty at the University of Texas Health Science Center as a professor of medicine and cellular and structural biology. Dr. Von Hoff went on to become the founding director of the Institute for Drug Development at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center and director of the cancer center at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Von Hoff’s major interest is in the development of new anticancer agents, both in the clinic and in the laboratory.

Throughout his career, Dr. Von Hoff has published more than 650 papers, 140 book chapters and 1,000 abstracts. Dr. Von Hoff was selected as a 2016 Giant of Cancer Care® by OncLive, honored with the Scripps Genomic Medicine Award in 2011, named one of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 50 Oncology Luminaries in 2014 and among the first class selected in 2013 by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for its Fellows of the AACR Academy.

In addition to leading the NFCR Center for Targeted Cancer Therapies, Dr. Von Hoff was appointed to President Bush’s National Cancer Advisory Board from 2004-2010, is the past President of AACR, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member and past board member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.  He is also the founder and the Editor Emeritus of Investigational New Drugs – The Journal of New Anticancer Agents and past Editor-in-Chief of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

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Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.

University of Kansas Cancer Center

Kansas City, Kansas
Professor and Chair, Department of Cancer Biology
Adjunct faculty of Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology

Research

Metastatic cancer (any cancer that has spread from the area it started to other areas of the body) is responsible for 90% of all cancer-related deaths. Dr. Danny Welch has devoted his career to finding out what causes cancer to metastasize or spread – and how the spread of cancer can be prevented or predicted.

Dr. Welch and his team have discovered eight of the more than 30 known metastasis suppressor genes. They have also recently discovered how some of those suppressors function and are designing therapies to take advantage of their mechanisms.

One of their research areas is focused on understanding how KISS1 proteins suppress metastasis so they can design molecules that mimic the proteins and either prevent metastasis from happening or maintain metastatic tumors in a dormant state.

Through recent research, they have also identified genetic changes that predict whether patients will or will not develop metastasis. At least some of these changes occur in mitochondrial DNA, which is present in every cell and small enough to be rapidly analyzed. These results could mean that a simple blood draw and analysis of mitochondrial DNA could be used to help doctors guide their strategy to treat patients.

Bio

Danny R. Welch, Ph.D., received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California at Irvine and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas-Houston in tumor biology. Following his doctoral research, he became a research scientist at the Upjohn Company and Glaxo pharmaceuticals. At both companies, he was responsible for pre-clinical testing of anti-cancer drugs. In 1990, he joined the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine where he ascended the faculty ranks to the level of Associate Professor. In 2002, Dr. Welch joined the faculty of the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a Professor of Pathology and Director of the Metastasis Program at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Since 2002, Dr. Welch has led the NFCR Center for Cancer Metastasis. He is currently the Founding Director of the Department of Cancer Biology and a Professor at the University of Alabama. Moreover, Dr. Welch is a Komen scholar and president of the Cancer Biology Training Consortium. He has served on numerous grant review panels for the National Institutes of Health, Department Of Defense, American Cancer Society the Susan G. Komen organization, the European Union and other international agencies.

Dr. Welch has served as editor-in-chief for Clinical and Experimental Metastasis and is currently a deputy editor at Cancer Research. He is also co-editor of the textbook Cancer Metastasis. Throughout his career, Dr. Welch has authored more than 192 peer-reviewed publications and more than 20 book chapters, and he’s the recipient of numerous mentoring and teaching awards.

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Wei Zhang, Ph.D.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Director, Cancer Genomics and Precision Oncology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
Professor, Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University
Co-Director, ISB/MDACC Genome Data Analysis Center
President and Director, United States Chinese Anti-Cancer Association, Inc.

Research

Dr. Zhang has devoted his entire career to the pursuit of precision oncology – specifically to the key molecular and genomic events that drive the development and progression of cancer.

Over the last 18 years, Dr. Zhang and his team have identified multiple novel cancer markers and oncogenic signaling molecules. These molecules are under extensive investigation to see how well they can predict the outcomes for stage IV colorectal cancer patients.

Dr. Zhang has been using the microRNA molecule NGAL to make cancer cells more receptive to treatment. His research is uncovering defects in a BRCA2 gene that might sensitize gastric cancer to chemotherapy and, working with an international team of scientists from the U.S. and China, looking to discover a key factor that may explain drug resistance in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the deadliest form of brain cancer. These findings could give oncologists new diagnostic tools to improve disease management and patient survival.

Additionally, Dr. Zhang has used an expanded high throughput genomic screen to identify targets for the treatment of a soft tissue sarcoma that develops from tissues surrounding nerves called malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST). Results have provided evidence that the tyrosine kinase receptor pathway is a potential therapeutic target for patients with MPSNT.

In collaboration with the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia and other scientists, Dr. Zhang led his team to analyze advanced genome-sequencing data from hundreds of gastric cancer samples and discovered defects in three cellular signaling pathways (BRCA2, Wnt and PI3-K-ERBB4). Several newly developed drugs that target these pathways have been tested in breast and ovarian cancers and may lead to improved treatments for patients with stomach cancer.

Dr. Zhang is currently studying how genetic expression, amplification and mutations relate to and regulate each other. Using data from next-generation sequencing, Dr. Zhang is identifying growth-promoting genes of a patient’s cancer.

Additionally, in July, 2017, Dr. Zhang released findings that African-American patients with smoking-related cancers have an increased mutation rate in several genes, including TP53. This discovery may help uncover why African-Americans typically have worse outcomes than Caucasians from smoking-related cancers. These findings may lead to the development of novel diagnostic and improved therapeutic options for patients.

Bio

Wei Zhang, Ph.D., is the Director of Cancer Genomics and Precision Oncology at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest. He is also co-director of one of the Genome Data Analysis Centers.

Dr. Zhang graduated from Peking University in Beijing, China in 1985 before receiving his Ph.D.in molecular biology from the University of Texas. From 1999 to 2016, Dr. Zhang was the director of the Genomics Core Laboratory at MD Anderson’s Cancer Center. In 2004, he joined the faculty of MD Anderson’s Cancer Center and, in just two years, rose to the rank of full professor, teaching pathology and cancer biology. From 2014 to 2016, Dr. Zhang was the Director of the NFCR Center for Cancer System Informatics at MD Anderson’s Cancer Center.

Dr. Zhang has published more than 320 peer-reviewed papers and his research has been supported by numerous grants from the National Cancer Institute, the Department of Defense, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and several foundations, including NFCR, the Goldhirsh Foundation, the James S. McDonald Foundation and the Shriver Initiatives for Sarcoma.

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Jojo Huang

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Lorel Joslyn

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Esther H. Chang, Ph.D.

Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

Washington, D.C.
Professor of Oncology and Otolaryngology, Georgetown University Medical Center

Research

Dr. Esther Chang has devoted her career to improving the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She has consistently been testing new therapies while simultaneously administering existing treatments.

Her initial research focused on the genetic factors that lead to cancer. She looked at how some cells became malignant and then researched factors that could stop tumor growth, like the p53 tumor suppressor gene.
Dr. Chang and her team developed a nanoscale drug delivery system that carries anti-cancer agents (like the p53 tumor suppressor gene) directly to both primary and metastatic tumor cells. In earlier work, they found that this approach significantly enhanced a tumor’s sensitivity to chemo and radiation therapies in complex tumor models of 16 different types of cancer, including head and neck, prostate, pancreatic and breast cancer and melanoma. Moreover, clinical trials are now treating patients with brain, pancreatic and other advanced cancers and preliminary results also appear to be promising.

Using ovarian cancer models in recent experiments, Dr. Chang’s team successfully delivered the p53 gene to the tumor and sensitized the cancer to chemotherapy. In a majority of ovarian cancers, p53 is mutated or damaged and this may offer an effective alternative treatment for ovarian cancer patients whose cancer becomes resistant to first-line treatments.

Bio

Esther Chang, Ph.D., received her bachelor’s degree from Fu Jen University in Taiwan and her Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University.  Following her doctoral research, she held various positions at the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and Stanford University Medical Center. In 1996, Dr. Chang joined the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center as a Professor of Oncology and Otolaryngology and she is still on staff there today.

In addition to teaching and conducting research, Dr. Chang is the President of the American Society for Nanomedicine and is an Executive Board Member of the International Society for Nanomedicine.

Dr. Chang is the inventor or co-inventor of 115 issued patents and is the founding scientist and senior consultant for SynerGene Therapeutics, Inc., a privately-held company that has five ongoing clinical trials for two nanomedicines.

Throughout her career, Dr. Chang has published over 140 scientific articles and has served as a member of the scientific boards for the National Cancer Institute, NASA, the U.S. Military Cancer Institute and the Department of Energy.

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Webster K. Cavenee, Ph.D.

Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

San Diego, California
Director of Strategic Alliances in Central Nervous System Cancers, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego
Chairman, NFCR Scientific Advisory Board

Research

Dr. Web Cavenee has fundamentally changed the way scientists now think about the onset of cancer and its progression. He provided the first indisputable evidence of the existence of tumor suppressor genes.

Dr. Cavenee’s original research sought to define the genetic lesions in retinoblastoma and led to evidence that there’s tumor suppression in humans. Today, mutations of tumor suppressor genes have been identified in more than half of all tumors, including those of muscle, melanocytes, kidney, prostate and breast. Gene therapies are being tested that would reverse gene mutations (or their effects) in cancer cells. These therapies hold tremendous promise for patients with brain tumors and many other cancers.

Dr. Cavenee and his team have developed a high-throughput CHIP-NextGen sequencing method to identify miRNAs that drive the development of aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft-tissue sarcoma that has a poor prognosis and is most common in young adults and teenagers.

In recent years, Dr. Cavenee’s research efforts, with support from NFCR, have concentrated on glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive and deadliest brain tumor. His research team uncovered an abnormal version of the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) – named EGFRviii – that is only present in the most rapidly-progressing tumors. With this knowledge, Dr. Cavenee’s team is now developing monoclonal antibodies, small molecules and nucleic acid-based therapeutics – known as EGFRvIII inhibitors – to target this tumor-specific molecule.

Additionally, Dr. Cavenee has partnered with another NFCR-funded scientist, Dr. Paul B. Fisher. They have discovered a new pharmacological agent that could – with additional chemistry – lead to a new drug to prevent radiation-induced invasion of GBM cells. The researchers have tested their pharmacological agent in combination with radiation and have seen profound survival benefits in pre-clinical models. Click here to read the full report on the pharmacological agent by the scientists.

Bio

Web Cavenee, Ph.D., received his B.S. in Microbiology from Kansas State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. He then conducted postdoctoral work at the Jackson Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Utah, and held professorships at the University of Cincinnati and McGill University.

Dr. Cavenee first joined the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in 1985 as a member and Montreal branch director. He later moved and founded the San Diego Ludwig branch. Dr. Cavenee is a member of the Strategic Alliances in Central Nervous System (CNS) Cancers and rose to become director in 2015. The same year, he was named Chairman of the NFCR Scientific Advisory Board.

Dr. Cavenee’s research has been funded by various groups throughout the years and his expertise is highly sought after. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, a fellow of the International Union Against Cancer and is a former president of the American Association for Cancer Research. Dr. Cavenee is on the editorial boards of several scientific journals and has served on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Additionally, Dr. Cavenee was part of the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia that was founded and operated by NFCR to help drive international material collections, and he sits on the Executive Committee of GBM AGILE, which is a revolutionary global collaboration to test and develop new brain cancer treatments that NFCR has taken a leading role on.

Throughout his career, Dr. Cavenee has published more than 300 publications and has been recognized with more than 80 honors and awards, including the 2007 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research, Rhoads Award, the Charles S. Mott Prize and the 2016 Feldman Founder’s Award for Adult Brain Tumor Research.

Areas of Focus

Cancer Types

Years of NFCR Funding

2002–2015

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Laurence J.N. Cooper, M.D., Ph.D.

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Houston, Texas
Visiting Scientist, Department of Pediatrics
Chief Executive Officer, ZIOPHARM Oncology

Research

T-cells are part of the body’s immune system that is responsible for identifying, attacking and destroying diseased cells. However, cancer cells can hide. And in order for T-cells to get rid of cancer, they first have to “see” the cancer. Dr. Cooper and his team of researchers  found a way to modify the T-cells collected from a leukemia or lymphoma patient and enable them to “see” the tumor cells.

The research team employed a genetic engineering technique that makes the T-cells carry a “cellular antenna” (chimeric antigen receptor or CAR), which specifically detects a molecule called CD19 that is found on the tumor cell surface of several types of leukemia and lymphoma (including Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and Lymphomas of the B-lineage). When the CAR-T cells are fully-equipped and infused back to the same patient, they can mount full-blown immune attacks on tumor cells.

In addition, since cancerous tissues often contain less oxygenated cells, Dr. Cooper is developing an approach to make the engineered CAR-T cells seek out cancer cells specifically in tissues that are less oxygenated. Preliminary laboratory results are very encouraging.

Moving research to patient care, Dr. Cooper’s team recently published their laboratory results from a high throughput device that rapidly makes large numbers of CAR-T cells. Although it is still early in its development, Dr. Cooper predicts the innovative device will provide a faster and safer method for redirecting immune cells. Early in 2015, a new company, ZIOPHARM Oncology, was launched to translate Dr. Cooper’s adoptive immunotherapy approach into new treatments for patients in clinics across the U.S.

Bio

Laurence J.N. Cooper, M.D, Ph.D., is a visiting scientist at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and CEO of ZIOPHARM Oncology. He graduated from Kenyon College in 1986 and received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. He then completed his medical residency at the University of Washington Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center. Dr. Cooper finished his schooling with a fellowship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Dr. Cooper joined the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2006, where his appointments included Tenured Professor in pediatrics and immunology, Section Chief of cell therapy at the Children’s Cancer Hospital and Associate Director at the Center for Cancer Immunology Research.

Dr. Cooper has received numerous awards and honors, including the 1994 Henry F. Sanders’ Award in Pediatrics from Case Western Reserve University, the 1999 Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the 2004 American Society of Gene Therapy Young Investigator Award, the 2010 Best Boss Award at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the 2012 Robert M. Chamberlain Distinguished Mentor Award from MD Anderson Cancer Center.

He has also authored more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and abstracts, and is a member of many societies and organizations, including the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, the American Society of Hematology, the California Medical Association, the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant, the Harris County Medical Society, the International Society for Biological Therapy of Cancer, the International Society for Cellular Therapy, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, the Follicular Lymphoma Consortium, the National Cancer Institute’s Pediatric Oncology Branch and the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

Area of Focus

Cancer Type

Years of NFCR Funding

2004 – 2015

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