Stand Up To Cancer Project

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About the project

People with Fanconi anemia (FA) are at a very high risk of developing head and neck cancers because of the underlying DNA repair problem in FA. Research is the key to understanding, diagnosing, and treating these cancers. That’s why the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund (FARF) joined Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) and three partner organizations in 2021 to fund $3.25 million in grants to find new treatments for head and neck cancers.

This project reflects FARF’s commitment to directing, accelerating, and investing in cancer research. Over the past three decades, FA research largely focused on gene discovery (there are now at least 23 FA genes), mechanisms of the DNA repair pathway regulated by FA proteins, and bone marrow failure. Now that more people with FA can be successfully treated with stem cell transplants, the focus of FARF has shifted almost exclusively to supporting research on FA cancers.

To facilitate productive collaborations and cross-pollination of ideas between the FA community of researchers and experts in cancer biology, in 2021 FARF developed a collaboration with Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), a leading international cancer research nonprofit. Stand Up To Cancer harnesses the power of the entertainment industry to fund collaborative translational cancer research projects. The organization funds large integrated research teams comprised of leading scientists with varying expertise who focus their efforts on developing treatments for cancer.

The collaboration between FARF and SU2C also includes three additional nonprofit organizations: the American Head and Neck Society, the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance, and the Farrah Fawcett Foundation. This collaboration aims to develop a head and neck cancer research team with funding from each organization.

The goal of this collaborative approach is to inspire powerful and purposeful cancer research that will lead to new and less toxic approaches to treating head and neck cancers, especially those associated with FA and human papillomavirus (HPV).

The incidence of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in people with Fanconi anemia is 500- to 700-fold higher than in the general population and treatment options are limited. HPV is a very common virus that can cause cancer, including cancer of the throat; approximately 45,300 people with HPV will get a cancer diagnosis every year in the U.S.

Head and neck cancers associated with FA or HPV have something in common: genetic defects that cause FA, as well as genetic changes resulting from HPV infection, both adversely affect DNA repair systems, which can lead to cancer.

Progress on the project

The project began with a virtual Ideas Lab in April 2021. During the Ideas Lab, selected participants, including FA scientists and head and neck cancer experts, shared their perspectives on unanswered questions in the field, an overview of what their specific contributions would be to a SU2C research team, and their best ideas on how to target FA and HPV-related head and neck cancers.

Following the Ideas Lab, the participants formed interdisciplinary teams and crafted research proposals that were submitted at the end of June. These proposals were reviewed by a committee of experts who selected the final research team to fund. The team was announced in October.

Agata Smogorzewska, MD, PhD, associate professor at The Rockefeller University will lead the research team and Barbara Burtness, MD, professor of medicine, interim associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion and co-leader, Developmental Therapeutics Program at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital, will serve as co-leader of the team.

The team will bring together experts working on different aspects of head and neck cancers with a focus on collaboration that speeds the discovery of new treatments. Using a variety of state-of-the-art tools to better understand how head and neck cancers develop, the team will improve treatments by identifying new combinations of current and emerging therapies that may be effective for these types of cancers.

“By improving our understanding of HPV-related and Fanconi anemia-associated cancers, we will be able to identify and develop new treatment and preventive strategies for individuals with these cancer types,” said Smogorzewska. “Our ultimate goal is to achieve better survival without compromising quality of life that is currently limited by treatment toxicity. The challenges of treating patients with Fanconi anemia who develop cancer are profound due to the inability to use standard chemotherapy. Similarly, for patients with HPV-related cancer, development of treatment resistance leads to poor outcomes.”

About Stand Up To Cancer

Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C, a division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a 501(c) (3) charitable organization, was established in 2008 by media and entertainment leaders who utilize these communities’ resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, to increase awareness about cancer prevention, and to highlight progress being made in the fight against the disease. As of August 2020, more than 1,950 scientists representing more than 210 institutions are involved in SU2C-funded research projects.

Under the direction of our Scientific Advisory Committee, led by Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., SU2C operates rigorous competitive review processes to identify the best research proposals to recommend for funding, oversee grants administration, and ensure collaboration across research programs.

Current members of the SU2C Council of Founders and Advisors (CFA) include Katie Couric, Sherry Lansing, Kathleen Lobb, Lisa Paulsen, Rusty Robertson, Sue Schwartz, Pamela Oas Williams, and Ellen Ziffren. The late Laura Ziskin and the late Noreen Fraser are also co-founders. Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., serves as SU2C’s CEO. For more information, visit StandUpToCancer.org.

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