GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The National Cancer Institute, NCI, has awarded the Van Andel Institute, along with Coriell Institute for Medical Research, a $12.4 million Specialized Programs of Research Excellence grant, SPORE. The prestigious five-year grant will allow 20 scientists to improve their work with epigenetic cancer therapies, which aim to treat cancer by correcting abnormal gene expression. That process can also make other cancer therapies more effective.

“Epigenetic therapies hold immense potential to shift the paradigm in cancer treatment,” Dr. Peter Jones, Van Andel Institutes Chief Scientific Officier and co-leader of the SPORE awarded project said. “We’re thrilled to be recipients of a SPORE award, which is an exceptional mechanism for catalyzing collaboration and powering discovery.”

Dr. Jones, along with Johns Hopkins University and VAI’s Stephen Baylin, MD, and Coriell’s President and CEO Jean-Pierre Issa, MD, all co-lead the project. Receiving a SPORE grant from NCI helps to solidify VAI and Coriell as premier cancer research institutions.

“SPORE grants hold a special place in translational cancer research. Through them, the NCI enables
groundbreaking work and the trust it puts in the awarded scientists allows for unparalleled freedom and
collaboration,” said Dr. Issa.

Jones, Baylin and Issa also collaborate on the Van Andel Institute – Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team, which has launched more than a dozen epigenetic therapy clinical trials in recent years and will support trials from this SPORE.

“Research in the last decade has reinforced the promise of epigenetic therapies both as a standalone
treatment strategy and as a way to enhance existing approaches such as immunotherapy,” Dr. Baylin said.
“The SPORE award will allow us to investigate the underpinnings of epigenetics in cancer, with the goal
of translating our findings to the clinic.”

These are the three projects supported by the $12.4 million grant:

•Project 1: A collaboration between the Coriell Institute and Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine led by Dr. Issa and Hackensack Meridian’s Yi Zhang, PhD, a member of the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation and part of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. This group will investigate the potential of a certain group of kinases, enzymes that regulate proteins, as therapeutics targets.
• Project 2: A collaboration between Baylin and VAI’s Scott Rothbart, PhD. This team will investigate a potentially novel therapeutic strategy for treating solid tumors by inhibiting DNMT and EZH1/2 enzymes.
• Project 3: A collaboration between Indiana University’s Ken Nephew, PhD, and Kathy Miller, MD, and University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Feyruz Rassool, PhD. This team will investigate the impact of epigenetic therapy on cancers driven by BRCAness, a major cancer-related vulnerability.

The SPORE grant will work to improve epigenetic therapies by exploring new targets, investigating novel combinations of epigenetic therapies with other cancer treatments and by designing and running clinical trials to evaluate those promising strategies. It will also help support two shared scientific resource cores: A Genomics Core at Coriell Institute and a Pathology and Biorepository Core at VAI. Scientists working on these related research projects can utilize these resources in conducting their work.