Cancer Research Institute Media Room




Fight CRC and Cancer Research Institute Award $400,000 to Support Cutting-Edge Immunotherapy Research in Colorectal Cancer

Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC) and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), announced today that they have awarded a $400,000 research grant to Cynthia L. Sears, MD, professor of medicine, oncology and molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Sears was awarded the grant for her project, “Gut microbiome and the immune microenvironment of human primary and metastatic colorectal cancer.” This is the biggest single grant Fight CRC has awarded a researcher to-date, and it is CRI’s first research grant given in partnership with Fight CRC designed to bring immunotherapy expertise to bear on challenges in treating this patient population.

“Colorectal cancer has historically been understudied and underfunded even though it’s the second-leading cause of cancer deaths,” said Anjee Davis, president of Fight CRC. “We are committed to funding research and thrilled to partner with CRI to award vital work in immunotherapy targeting metastatic colorectal cancer.”

A scientific review committee selected by Fight CRC and CRI chose Sears to receive the funds because her proposal explores a novel and exciting hypothesis around the role bacteria play in altering the tumor microenvironment and how they impede the immune system’s ability to target and eliminate colon cancer.

Sears explained, “We now understand that about 50 percent of colon cancers are covered in a dense community of bacteria, called biofilms, and a group of these bacteria invade the tumor and the normal colon tissue in the colon cancer patient. In our grant, we seek to understand how these bacterial biofilms alter tumor immunity and which bacteria or their molecules contribute to the immune response to the tumor and its distant metastases. Our goal is to determine if the tumor microbial environment enhances or impedes immune responses to the tumor and how a patient responds to cancer immunotherapy.”

Through Sears’ cutting-edge work, new strategies for effectively treating colorectal cancer patients with immunotherapy (also called immuno-oncology, or IO) may follow.

Immunotherapy has to-date provided limited benefit to the majority of colorectal cancer patients, with the exception of patients with highly mutated tumors characterized by microsatellite instability (MSI). In December 2015, Fight CRC and CRI formed a partnership with the goal of furthering IO research in CRC and establishing therapeutic strategies that lead to improved outcomes for these patients. To that end, the two organizations convened a group of global immunotherapy and CRC experts who over the past year have worked together on a blueprint for CRC immunotherapy. The group worked with Fight CRC and CRI to review proposals and agreed that Sears’ project showed promise for both patients and scientists.

“As an organization dedicated to the discovery and development of immunotherapy for all cancers, CRI actively seeks out partnerships with organizations that have a strong focus in specific cancer patient communities like Fight CRC, and by combining the expertise and resources of both partners, increase our impact on these cancers,” said Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, CEO and director of scientific affairs at CRI.

Upon acceptance of the grant, Sears commented, “Colorectal cancer is increasing in younger adults in the United States and overall across the globe. We are excited to begin this work to hopefully gain new knowledge that will inform colon cancer prevention, which is key to eliminating colon cancer as a public health threat. Being able to work with the Cancer Research Institute and Fight CRC has been inspiring for me as an infectious diseases physician-scientist because of the dedication to conquering colon cancer that I have observed in a broad range of scientists and survivors.”

This is the eighth grant Fight CRC has awarded to a scientist investigating late-stage colorectal cancer. Since 2008, the organization has allocated reserved research dollars to convene researchers, train research advocates and directly fund scientists through the Lisa Fund. The immunotherapy research was kickstarted by a legacy gift from the late Gordon Cole, a former board member and advocate at Fight CRC who believed immunotherapy research was the future of medicine. Cole passed in Sept. 2015.

CRI funding for this award comes primarily from more than $163,000 in donations made to CRI in memory of Cindy Stowell, the six-time Jeopardy! champion who died from colon cancer last year at age 41 and who decided to donate her winnings to cancer immunotherapy research.

The two-year grant will be administered by CRI with the funding provided jointly by CRI and Fight CRC.

For updates on colorectal cancer research, visit or

Media Contacts:

For Fight CRC:
Danielle Burgess, +571.335.8442, [email protected]

For Cancer Research Institute:
Brian Brewer, +212.688.7515 x242, [email protected]

About Fight Colorectal Cancer
Fight CRC is a national nonprofit advocacy organization fighting for a cure. It was founded in 2005 by Nancy Roach, a patient advocate who witnessed the need for colorectal cancer advocacy after her mother-in-law’s diagnosis. The organization plays an important role in rallying colorectal cancer advocates to action. Fight CRC is known for activism and patient empowerment throughout patient, academic, political, scientific, medical and nonprofit communities. With a mission focused on advocacy, research, patient education and awareness, the organization serves advocates in every state of the U.S. and many others around the world. Fight CRC is a 4-star charity by Charity Navigator and 93 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to colorectal cancer programs. To make a donation to support late-stage colorectal cancer research and help fund an additional grant, visit

About the Cancer Research Institute
The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), established in 1953, is the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to transforming cancer patient care by advancing scientific efforts to develop new and effective immune system-based strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat, and eventually cure all cancers. Guided by a world-renowned Scientific Advisory Council that includes three Nobel laureates and 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, CRI has invested $344 million in support of research conducted by immunologists and tumor immunologists at the world’s leading medical centers and universities, and has contributed to many of the key scientific advances that demonstrate the potential for immunotherapy to change the face of cancer treatment. To learn more, go to

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