Rutgers Cancer Institute of N.J. team heads group awarded $25M for research

Team, led by White, will join with those from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Weill Cornell Medicine

A team led by Dr. Eileen White of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, in collaboration with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Weill Cornell Medicine, has been awarded a $25 million Cancer Grand Challenges grant to tackle the condition of cancer cachexia.

Cancer Grand Challenges is a global funding platform, co-founded by Cancer Research U.K. and the National Cancer Institute in the U.S., which supports a community of diverse, global teams to come together, think differently and take on some of cancer’s toughest challenges.

The CANCAN (CANcer Cachexia Action Network) team is led by White, the deputy director and chief scientific officer at the Rutgers Cancer Institute. It will be joined by teams led by Dr. Marcus DaSilva Goncalves of Weill Cornell Medicine and Dr. Tobias Janowitz at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

The groups will address the challenge of cancer cachexia — a debilitating wasting condition people often experience in the later stages of their cancer, accompanied by fatigue and tissue dysfunction and imparting a poor prognosis and quality of life.

Despite being a major clinical problem, little is understood about the syndrome, which lacks effective therapies for people who experience it. A deep understanding of the mechanisms causing this syndrome would enable the development of novel interventions that could improve treatment response, quality of life and, ultimately, survival.

The team unites scientists and clinicians with expertise in cancer, metabolism, neuroendocrine function, immunology and more, across multiple institutions throughout the U.S. and the U.K., aiming to build the world’s first virtual institute with a mission to solve cancer cachexia.

“We’re thrilled to be selected for funding by Cancer Grand Challenges,” White said. “Cachexia research has been fruitful in recent decades, but it’s been incremental and has not yet generated any effective therapies. We’ve assembled a team with diverse and complementary expertise, which we believe will advance the field and find novel ways to remedy the condition.”

Dr. Steven Libutti, director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute, said the grant will have impact.

“We are extremely excited that the team that Dr. Eileen White assembled, representing outstanding institutions from across the globe, received this highly competitive award from the Cancer Grand Challenges funding partnership, and that this award will help her team explore such an important area of cancer research on a global level,” he said. “Studies focused on cancer metabolism and the tumor microenvironment are at the foundation of Rutgers Cancer Institute’s science.

“As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute is distinguished by the unparalleled cutting-edge research performed by its investigators, and we are proud that Dr. White is our deputy director and among our top research leaders.”

Dr. David Scott, director of Cancer Grand Challenges, Cancer Research U.K., said the importance of research cannot be overstated.

“Cancer is a global issue that needs to be met with global collaboration,” he said. “This investment in team science encourages diverse thinking to problems like cachexia that have long hindered research progress.

“Cancer Grand Challenges provides the multidisciplinary teams the time, space and funding to foster innovation and a transformative approach. CANCAN is one of four newly funded teams joining a scientific community addressing unmet clinical needs across cancer research.”

The CANCAN team is one of four new teams announced as part of Cancer Grand Challenges, representing a total investment of $100 million to diverse, global teams to take on some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. The CANCAN team is spread across 14 institutions across the U.K. and U.S.: Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Weill Cornell Medicine; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Kaiser Permanente Medical Program of Northern California; Cancer Research U.K. Beatson Institute; Cancer Research U.K. Cambridge Institute; the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; University of Rochester; Harvard Medical School; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Louisiana State University; University of Cambridge; University College London; and the University of Glasgow.