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University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and Roswell Park Cancer Institute Awarded $11 Million to Fight Ovarian Cancer

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More than 14,000 women in the U.S., including 800 from Pennsylvania, died last year from ovarian cancer, a disease that often isn’t detected until later stages when it is significantly more difficult to treat. Now, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), partner with UPMC CancerCenter, and Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) will join forces thanks to an $11 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop deeper understanding of the disease, and identify ways to prevent and cure it.

The five-year grant award comes through the NCI’s Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE), and will fund three clinical trials evaluating newly developed immunotherapies and an epidemiological study examining strategies to reduce risk in women considered at high risk for developing ovarian cancer.

“Our clinical trial is tackling one of the ultimate goals of personalized cancer medicine and will explore the roles of chronic inflammation, cancer development and the body’s immune response, and how the immune response can be used to immunize the patient against her own cancer,” said Robert P. Edwards, M.D., executive vice-chair of gynecologic services and director of the Ovarian Cancer Center for Excellence at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

One of only five ovarian cancer–focused SPORE grants awarded nationally, this is the only one focused exclusively on utilizing the body’s immune system to fight the disease. The goal of the research is to reduce the overall morbidity and mortality of ovarian cancer through “bench to bedside” research.

“There is a need to develop novel and effective ovarian cancer therapies that are non-toxic and harness the body’s immune response to fight ovarian cancer,” said Kunle Odunsi, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Immunotherapy at RPCI and principal investigator of the SPORE grant. “This research is a combination of the work our institutes have developed for more than a decade. Whether a patient is newly diagnosed, in remission, or suffering a relapse, this SPORE can address her current condition.”

According to Dr. Edwards, the UPMC CancerCenter network will play a substantial role by providing access to all three clinical trials, including those that are launched at RPCI, to women across Pennsylvania.

“Our cancer investigators and our integrated cancer network are a rare combination in one institution and offer patient resources not available at any other cancer center network nationally,” said Dr. Edwards. “We’ve received incredible institutional support for our research, and because of this, we will be able to offer women in Pennsylvania access to some of the most cutting-edge ovarian cancer clinical trials available.”

This is UPCI’s fourth SPORE grant. Other SPORE grant awards focus on lung cancer, head and neck cancer and skin cancer. SPORE grants are highly competitive, requiring institutes to document strong collaboration between eminent scientists and clinicians as well as outstanding programs in translational research.