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Cancer Research Institute and Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation Announce Partnership to Fund Cancer Immunotherapy Research in Ultra-Rare Liver Cancer

Four Scientists Awarded Grants to Research the Role of Immunotherapy in Treating and Potentially Curing this Difficult-To-Treat Cancer

The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding cancer immunotherapy research for all types of cancer, and the Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation (FCF), a nonprofit organization devoted to funding research in a rare but deadly form of liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma (FHC), today announced that they have partnered to provide $641,500 to four outstanding scientists whose research is focused on developing immunotherapies for patients with FHC.

FHC is considered an “ultra-rare” disease, affecting approximately 200-300 people per year worldwide, mostly teens and young adults. Additionally, there is a high unmet need in both ongoing research efforts and the development of effective treatments. To date, no formal studies of the effectiveness of immunotherapy in the treatment of FHC have been undertaken.

The Cancer Research Institute/Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation Fellowships and Grants are the first research awards designated to help understand the potential role for immunotherapy in treating patients with this type of liver cancer.

“As the largest funder of fibrolamellar research, we are committed to exploring all appropriate research approaches to find a cure–sooner than later,” said John Hopper, executive director of the Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation. “Leveraging CRI’s tremendous depth of experience in immunotherapy fills a need to explore this therapy approach for our patient community,” Hopper added.

Cancer immunotherapy is a new approach to treating cancer that has been proven to benefit patients with a variety of cancer types, including melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, kidney cancer, head and neck cancer, and others. This treatment approach harnesses the immune system’s natural ability to protect the body against cancer.

“Through this funding, we seek to stimulate interest in this rare type of cancer and spur discoveries that may ultimately lead to lifesaving new immunotherapies for FHC patients,” said

Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, CEO and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute. “The Cancer Research Institute’s partnership with the Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation reinforces our commitment to leveraging our expertise in immunotherapy to benefit efforts in treating all types of cancer, particularly those that are rare and under-researched,” O’Donnell-Tormey added.

In July 2016, the Cancer Research Institute issued an open call for applications to fellowship candidates seeking to explore the potential role for immunotherapies in the treatment of FHC. Applications were reviewed by CRI’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Review Committee, which twice annually vets highly competitive applications from young scientists working in top immunology and tumor immunology laboratories around the world.

The three recipients of the Cancer Research Institute/Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation Fellowship are:

  • Kevin C. Barry, PhD, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
  • Sofia L. Novais De Oliveira, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
  • Kevin Michael Sullivan, MD, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA

Additionally, a Cancer Research Institute/Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation Grant has been awarded to:

  • Amy K. Kim, MD, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

“We now have the tools to rapidly determine the immune context of rarer types of cancer for which, like fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, there is a dearth of treatment options and that have gone understudied with respect to immunotherapy,” said Ellen Puré, PhD, professor and chair, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and chair, CRI Postdoctoral Fellowship Review Committee.

“This new initiative will fund four studies that, by being conducted in parallel, will in a cost and time effective manner provide insights into the immune context of FHC, determine whether FHC is a good candidate for immune-based therapies, and pave the way for translation of immune-based therapies for FHC to the clinic.”

About Fibrolamellar Hepatocelluar Carcinoma
Fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma (FHC) is a rare liver cancer that usually occurs in teens and young adults who have no history of liver disease. FHC occurs in only 1 in 5,000,000 people and is considered an ultra-rare cancer. Typical symptoms include abdominal, shoulder or back pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice, and occasionally a palpable mass, and are usually associated with advanced disease. The typical treatment is surgical removal of the tumor, which can be curative if done before the tumor has spread, or metastasized. When the tumor cannot be removed surgically or when there is distant spread, other therapies may be used to slow down the spread of the disease. There is no standard regimen so non-surgical therapy varies from patient to patient. These therapies are not typically curative but may shrink tumors for a period of time. New treatments that offer curative potential in patients with advanced disease are urgently needed.

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