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A total of $1.3 million awarded to advance new treatments for kidney cancer

HOUSTON – September 16, 2019 – The Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) is pleased to announce the recipients of the Advanced Discovery Awards (ADA) and Young Investigator Awards (YIA). In April, the KCA approved $1.3 million in new grant funding to advance early detection and new treatments for kidney cancer. 

“The KCA was delighted by the high caliber of proposals received for both awards and are hopeful that this research will advance the medical community’s understanding of kidney cancer,” said Dr. Christopher Wood, Chair of the KCA’s Board of Directors. “We are committed to making a substantive impact in the lives of patients with kidney cancer and look forward to seeing the groundbreaking proposals for the YIA and ADA each year.” 

Established this year, the purpose of the ADA is to promote collaboration between a clinician including a urologic oncologist, medical oncologist or radiation oncologist and a Ph.D. to propose new research that will make an immediate impact in the field of kidney cancer. The YIA seeks to encourage promising researchers in urology and clinical oncology who are planning to pursue an investigative career in kidney cancer. ADAs are for established investigators and this year two $500,000 grants were awarded. In addition to these new grants, the KCA increased the number and value of the YIAs from two grants worth $50,000 to four grants worth $75,000. 

All grant proposals were initially evaluated through a Letter of Intent (LOI) and top ranking LOIs were invited to submit a full proposal. An independent panel of reviewers, who are recognized experts in the field, conducted a scored review of all applications received.

The first installment of awards will be distributed in October 2019. A select number of recipients will present their projects to physicians, researchers, and medical staff from leading centers across the globe at the 19th International Kidney Cancer Symposium (IKCS) in November 2020. For more information on the awards and symposium, please visit the KCA website at www.kidneycancer.org

Advanced Discovery Award Recipients

Research Team

Kathleen M. Mahoney, MD, PhD – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center
Gordon J. Freeman, PhD – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Rupal S. Bhatt, MD, PhD – Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center

HHLA2/KIR3DL3 as a novel therapeutic immune checkpoint pathway in renal cancer
This research team will explore a novel immune checkpoint pathway that is similar to, but non-overlapping with, the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway, which has been the key driver of advances in immunotherapy that led to much improved outcomes for many patients with cancer. A better understanding of how this HHLA2/KIR3DL3 pathway works and determining if disrupting it allows immune cells to target and destroy cancer cells could be particularly important for patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) who might not benefit from existing immunotherapies.

Research Team

Eric Jonasch, MD – The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Guang Peng, PhD – The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

S-phase DNA damage response links genomic instability mechanisms to anti-tumor immunity in renal cell carcinoma 
This research team will investigate how the novel tumor suppressor gene NPRL2 functions. The team will study how NPRL2 triggers innate immune response in RCC through impairing S-phase DNA damage response (S-DDR). NPRL2 is frequently deleted from chromosomes in clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) and the research team will also explore treatment strategies exploiting this deficiency. 

Young Investigator Award (YIA) Recipients

Scott M. Haake, MD – Vanderbilt University Medical Center
W. Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD (Mentor) – Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Endogenous retrovirus expression drives immunogenicity of papillary renal cell carcinoma 
In prior published work, Dr. Haake and colleagues established that endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are a biomarker for immune response in ccRCC patients and a potential therapeutic target. This research project will shift focus to investigate ERV expression in papillary RCC (both type 1 and 2) to and how ERV impacts anti-tumor immune response in this understudied RCC subtype.

Akash Kumar Kaushik, PhD – University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD (Mentor) – University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

In vivo glutamine metabolism in VHL and FH mutant renal cell carcinoma 
Dr. Kaushik’s research project will take a closer look at the amino acid glutamine – a major source of energy and growth for some cancer cells – and its role in cellular activity. In particular, Dr. Kaushik will investigate the efficacy of a glutaminase inhibitor in patient-derived mouse models with mutated versions of the VHL and FH tumor suppressor genes. He will also examine how effective specific inhibitors of a key energy-generating cellular process are in VHL- and FH-mutant tumors. 

Ed Reznik, PhD – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
A. Ari Hakimi, MD (Mentor) – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Metabolic determinants of the tumor microenvironment and sensitivity to immunotherapy in ccRCC
The tumor microenvironment (TME), which includes blood vessels, stroma, immune and other types of cells, and signaling molecules, plays an important part in in the effectiveness of immunotherapy. Dr. Reznik will closely examine tumor metabolism as it relates to the TME of ccRCC. A better understanding of the TME and its varied components might help indicate which therapies are more likely to be effective for patients with ccRCC, thereby avoiding potentially unnecessary treatment. The findings also have the potential to identify new therapeutic targets. 

Tian Zhang, MD, MHS – Duke Cancer Institute
Daniel J. George, MD (Mentor) – Duke Cancer Institute

Immune correlates of immunotherapy responses in renal cell carcinoma 
Patients with metastatic ccRCC have several options when it comes to first-line immunotherapy, including combination treatment with VEGF inhibitors that stop blood vessels from growing excessively. Choosing between options is still a challenge. Dr. Zhang will analyze how the TME response to immunotherapy. In addition, Dr. Zhang will investigate a panel of five genes and its association with resistance to ipilimumab/nivolumab combination therapy.

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About The Kidney Cancer Association

Founded in 1990 by a group of physicians and patients at the University of Chicago and Northwestern, many of whom are still active in the organization today, the KCA’s mission is bringing an end to death and suffering from renal cancers and envisioning a world without kidney cancer.

The KCA is a recognized and respected thought leader on the topic of kidney cancer in the medical community and a trusted resource for patients navigating the disease.  As an international organization, the KCA unites patients, families, doctors, researchers and other health professionals from around the world who are focused on education, research, and advocacy – all in an effort to promote the work necessary to understand, prevent and treat kidney cancer.