Gerstner Family Foundation commits $10 million to Broad Institute to overcome cancer drug resistance

May 18, 2015, 09:00 ET from Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard today announced a $10 million gift from the Gerstner Family Foundation that will expand cancer research at Broad Institute and broaden collaborations with Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The research will focus on the changes tumors undergo as they become resistant to drugs, which is the biggest hurdle to conquering the disease.

Although cancer patients often show dramatic initial responses to treatment, some tumor cells can escape therapy and come back in a deadlier, drug-resistant form. The Gerstner Family Foundation gift will allow Broad Institute to identify the mechanisms that drive cancer drug resistance and pave the way for new treatments.

"Cancer treatment has seen amazing progress over the past decade," said Eric Lander, President and Director of Broad Institute. "However, many cancer treatments are only temporary. Curing cancer will require solving the problem of drug resistance. This critical next phase of cancer research is becoming a reality thanks to the Gerstner Family Foundation's generous gift."

A New Approach to Drug Resistance

The Gerstner Family Foundation gift will support a two-pronged approach to the problem of cancer drug resistance: one based in the laboratory and the other in partnership with clinical researchers.

First, researchers at Broad Institute will systematically and comprehensively identify the mechanism of drug resistance, using CRISPR genome-editing technology. This revolutionary tool was developed in part at the Broad Institute and allows researchers to use experimental models to rapidly test which genes are responsible for cancer drug resistance in a lab setting.

Second, Broad Institute is partnering with two of the world's leading cancer centers: Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to launch the largest study to date of pre-treatment and drug-resistant tumors. By comparing the genome sequence of pre-treatment tumors to resistant tumors, researchers hope to identify the mutations that cause resistance.

At the same time, a Broad Institute team will build on efforts to develop 'blood-based' tumor biopsies. These are techniques to isolate and study rare tumor cells in a patient's bloodstream. If successful, they would provide doctors a much less invasive alternative to more traditional biopsies. Broad researchers will focus on improving methods to conduct genome sequencing of some circulating tumor cells.

"Human cancers are constantly evolving in ways that evade even the best of our innovative new drugs," said Edward J. Benz Jr., MD, President and CEO, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "For patients to get the maximum benefit from these exciting agents, we need to devise ways to defeat this resistance."

"Conquering drug resistance will be critical to achieving durable disease control for many cancer patients," said Levi Garraway, Associate Professor of Medicine, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Institute Member at Broad Institute. "These efforts to figure out cancer drug resistance represent a major step in the right direction."

"We are pleased to begin this exciting collaboration," said Craig B. Thompson, President and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. "Drug resistance is one of the most important problems that must be solved in cancer. Together, we have developed an ambitious but highly feasible plan to confront it."

As Jose Baselga, Physician-In-Chief and Chief Medical Officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering, said, "the time has come to launch this type of combined effort to study tumors and decipher drug resistance in cancer."

Of the collaboration, Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Chairman of the Gerstner Family Foundation, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Broad Institute and Honorary Chair of the Board for the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, said "I am confident that the scientists, doctors, and patients assembling together for this important research are going to have a huge impact on the next generation of cancer treatments."

About the Gerstner Family Foundation

The Gerstner Family Foundation has invested over $50 million in biomedical research over the past 20 years with leading institutions across the United States. Previous support of Broad Institute research includes establishing the ADHD Initiative, which examined the biological causes of ADHD.

The Foundation has a special focus on supporting the research of young investigators seeking a career in biological sciences. Programs of this kind have been funded at the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinic, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Additional investment in young scholars is provided through the Gerstner Sloan Kettering School of Biomedical Sciences.

About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine. The Broad Institute seeks to describe all the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods and data openly to the entire scientific community.

Founded by MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to broadinstitute.org.

About Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center

Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC) is the largest comprehensive cancer center in the country, bringing together the cancer research efforts of seven member institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children's Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Massachusetts General Hospital.  Funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute, DF/HCC consists of more than 1,000 researchers with a singular goal—to find new and innovative ways to combat cancer. For more information, go to dfhcc.harvard.edu.

About Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is the world's oldest and largest private cancer center, home to more than 13,000 physicians, scientists, nurses, and staff united by a relentless dedication to conquering cancer. As an independent institution, MSK combines 130 years of research and clinical leadership with the freedom to provide highly individualized, exceptional care to each patient. And MSK's always-evolving educational programs continue to train new leaders in the field, here and around the world. For more information, go to mskcc.org.

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