The Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research will spearhead a national R&D initiative focused on mutations in a family of genes called Ras, which play a role in 33 percent of all human cancers, including 90 percent of pancreatic cancers.
With unanimous concurrence of both the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Board of Scientific Advisers (BSA), the initiative will move forward, with NCI oversight, under the leadership of SAIC-Frederick Chief Executive Officer Dave Heimbrook, Ph.D., and Frank McCormick, Ph.D., director of the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco, and associate dean of the School of Medicine.
The concept, approved during a joint meeting of the advisory boards June 24, is to attack Ras-driven cancers through a hub-and-spoke model based at the Advanced Technology Research Facility (ATRF) and connecting collaborators nationwide.
Ras genes code for a set of proteins that are instrumental in cellular signaling, and when mutated, permit uncontrolled cellular proliferation in colorectal, lung, and pancreatic cancers, and many other malignancies. The signaling network has been well understood for about 30 years, but no one has found a way to use this knowledge in new cancer drugs.
“This unanimous endorsement by BSA/NCAB is really a big milestone for the program,” said Heimbrook. The initial concept grew out of the NCI at Frederick Advisory Committee (NFAC), which favors using the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research resources in a highly focused way and, in collaboration with other outside organizations, to take on intractable problems in cancer R&D. About $10 million annually in existing funding is being reprogrammed to support the initiative.
Earlier this year, NCI Director Harold Varmus and McCormick co-chaired a workshop in San Francisco, attended by Heimbrook and Chief Technology Officer Atsuo Kuki, Ph.D., along with members of NFAC and about 30 academic and industrial cancer biology experts, to further develop the concept.
Subsequent discussions were held, including a visit by McCormick to the ATRF. He said he has received a lot of encouragement for the idea from the research community and was extremely impressed with the quality of the people who work at the ATRF.
“The time is right,” McCormick told the joint advisory boards. He outlined five components of the initiative: Target mutant alleles; explore KRAS selective compounds; attempt to disrupt KRAS complexes; map the surface of KRAS cancer cells; and develop next-generation, synthetic lethal screens in vivo. Now, with the advisory board concurrence, work can begin to fully develop and implement these components.
In May, McCormick signed a consulting agreement with SAIC-Frederick, under which he will spend about half of his time helping to develop and lead the national Ras initiative.
To find out more about the Board of Scientific Advisors and to watch the advisory board proceedings on Ras, please visit the NIH Livecast website and search the archives for the June 24 event. videocast.nih.gov/PastEvents.asp
To find out more about Frank McCormick, please visit: frederick.cancer.gov/RASCancerGeneticsInitiative.aspx