Weill Cornell Medicine Awarded $11.3 Million Prestigious Grant for Prostate Cancer Research

Neuroendocrine prostate cancer cells from a patient biopsy. Image credit: Dr. Loredana Puca

NEW YORK (September 7, 2017) — Weill Cornell Medicine has been awarded a five-year, $11.3 million Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer — a disease that affects one in six men.

Established in 1992, SPORE grants serve as the cornerstone of the NCI’s efforts to promote collaborative, interdisciplinary translational cancer research. The NCI offers SPORE grants that focus on cancers that are associated with 19 specific organ sites, groups of highly related cancers, or diseases that share a common pathway. This SPORE grant is the first ever awarded to Weill Cornell Medicine, and will expand an already vibrant prostate cancer basic and translational research program at the institution’s Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center and Caryl and Israel Englander Institute for Precision Medicine.

“We are extremely proud to join an elite group of institutions working toward decreasing the suffering caused by prostate cancer,” said principal investigator Dr. Mark Rubin, founding director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and of pathology in urology at Weill Cornell Medicine, and director of the Department for Biomedical Research and leader for precision medicine at the University of Bern, Switzerland. “Despite years of effort trying to understand the biology of this disease, we still have many fundamental challenges to address, including why African-American men develop a more aggressive form of prostate cancer and why some patients develop a rare subtype that is resistant to therapy.”

The grant, which Dr. Himisha Beltran, an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, will co-lead, will support four innovative research projects focused on highly translational areas relevant to the detection and treatment of aggressive prostate cancer, each led by a basic scientist and translational clinical investigator. Projects will be aimed at improving the detection and treatment of a rare, treatment-resistant form of prostate cancer called neuroendocrine prostate cancer; exploring a molecular subtype of prostate cancer characterized by mutations in a gene called SPOP, which occurs in 10 to 15 percent of prostate cancers; and improving the understanding molecular variations in prostate cancer tumors. The SPORE will have significant infrastructural support for big data management, featuring a first-rate team of computational biologists and biostatisticians. It will also provide dedicated resources for tissue collection, organoid creation and molecular studies on patient samples.

In addition, the grant includes earmarked yearly funding to jumpstart new high-risk and high-reward studies led by Weill Cornell Medicine researchers, as well as a career enhancement program to support junior investigators who seek to enter into the field of prostate cancer research. “We are excited that matching institutional funds will help us recruit leading scientists into the field of prostate cancer research,” Dr. Rubin said.

This work and resulting findings will enable Weill Cornell Medicine researchers to develop an approach to treating prostate cancer that aligns their expertise in translational and genomic research with the care of men with treating the disease, Dr. Rubin said. Early detection of aggressive prostate cancer could improve clinical risk assessment and reduce overtreatment, and the development of unique biomarkers and treatment strategies could reduce the probability of drug resistance and disease progression, improving outcomes for men with metastatic disease.

“This prestigious grant will enable us to enhance our innovative, translational research into prostate cancer and inspire new collaborations as we work together to find a cure for this disease,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “The team of SPORE investigators is exceptional and its groundbreaking work will undoubtedly advance our mission of scientific discovery and patient care, reinforcing Weill Cornell Medicine’s reputation as a leader in research.”

Dr. Lewis Cantley, who has many years of experience working with or co-leading SPOREs, will work closely with the Weill Cornell Medicine SPORE team to ensure optimal success for the program.

“This is an amazing accomplishment and a major milestone for Weill Cornell Medicine,” said Dr. Cantley, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center and a professor of cancer biology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “It will provide dedicated support for prostate cancer research that can be leveraged to help develop other types of program projects and grants. We believe this will yield some of the best research at our institution, inspiring our top investigators to consider how their science might be applied to address the challenges of understanding prostate cancer.”

“The SPORE grant will facilitate collaboration and accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into the clinic,” said Dr. Beltran, who is also director of clinical activities at the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “The grant’s focus is translational research, which means our projects have a higher likelihood of going from bench to bedside and impacting patients.”

With the support of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Weill Cornell Medicine investigators have been able to develop their research projects, priming them for SPORE funding.

“The Prostate Cancer Foundation has for many years funded the exceptional work of Drs. Mark Rubin, Himisha Beltran and many others at Weill Cornell Medicine, and we are very pleased that the NCI has recognized the achievements and excellence of this group with a prestigious SPORE grant,” said Dr. Howard Soule, chief science officer and executive vice president of PCF. “With this NCI grant, they will be able to expand upon their efforts which lead from the bench to bedside and back again, and have resulted in many critical discoveries of prostate cancer mechanisms that are now being tested as new treatment paradigms for patients.”

Additional investigators on the SPORE grant include: Drs. Karla Ballman, Chris Barbieri, Julie Boyer, Olivier Elemento, Paraskevi Giannakakou, Lorraine Gudas, Juan Miguel Mosquera, David Nanus, David Rickman, Brian Robinson and Douglas Scherr at Weill Cornell Medicine; Dr. Michael Shen from Columbia University; Dr. Ronglai Shen from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Dr. Scott Tomlins from Michigan Medicine; Dr. Francesca Demichelis from the University of Trento; and Dr. Robert Bristow from the University of Toronto. 

The SPORE grant is supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P50CA211024. The content of this press release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Weill Cornell Medicine

Weill Cornell Medicine is committed to excellence in patient care, scientific discovery and the education of future physicians in New York City and around the world. The doctors and scientists of Weill Cornell Medicine — faculty from Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, and Weill Cornell Physician Organization — are engaged in world-class clinical care and cutting-edge research that connect patients to the latest treatment innovations and prevention strategies. Located in the heart of the Upper East Side's scientific corridor, Weill Cornell Medicine's powerful network of collaborators extends to its parent university Cornell University; to Qatar, where Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar offers a Cornell University medical degree; and to programs in Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Weill Cornell Medicine faculty provide comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. Weill Cornell Medicine is also affiliated with Houston Methodist. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.

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