Purpose-driven travel to forge global collaborations, real-time updates for the community on the latest international brain cancer research, and meetings with experts to decipher the direction of new treatments. Here in this new blog series, journey with our CEO, Lance Kawaguchi, as he meets with the best minds in brain cancer research in the United States during Brain Cancer Awareness Month to collaborate and drive to find a cure for brain cancer.
This series will share the latest discoveries in global brain cancer research; updates on the revolutionary GBM AGILE clinical trial; explanations of recent breakthroughs; and insights into what’s next for brain cancer. You will meet those with a passion to spread awareness of brain cancer and make a real impact for those diagnosed. Follow Lance as he works to build a collaborative front to work together to bring the best research and better treatment outcomes to Australia.
My first blog features an interesting discussion I had with Professor John De Groot, Professor and Chief of Neuro-Oncology, University of California, San Francisco, in addition to being a member of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). I met up with John in San Francisco, to talk about what’s new and exciting in brain cancer research, and his thoughts on the effectiveness of Foundation funding from our Fellowships to the Clinical Accelerator.
Lance: What’s exciting and new coming up in brain cancer research?
John: Over the last 5-10 years we are really turning the corner for brain cancer treatments. There’s a lot of exciting new drugs and therapies.
I think the world of immunotherapy is going to really make some major changes for patient outcomes. For example, there are new checkpoint inhibitors and checkpoint inhibitor combinations, and there are new cell therapies, which I think are a very exciting area.
New technologies are also coming forward. For example, focused ultrasound which is used to disrupt the blood-brain barrier, I think will probably not only be effective and enhance outcomes for patients by improving drug delivery, but also by improving cell therapy delivery and antibody delivery as well.
There’s a lot of exiting things going on!
Lance: John, you were part of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Foundation’s Early Career Fellowship and the Mid-Career Fellowship. How do these fellowships help researchers? We made the decision to make these fellowships three years, why is that important? Because most other early-career and mid-career fellowships are only one year.
John: Absolutely! This is such a wonderful effort by Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. I think the Early Career Fellowship awards are absolutely critical for young scientists. I was a recipient of one, and it was career-changing, it was so important for launching my career so many years ago.
So, I think the aspect of the duration is really critical because most fellowships are, as you said, one year. But it’s very difficult to accomplish something in one year. Three years is perfect, as it takes a year to get going, to really get the momentum, and then two years to complete and make it to the next stage.
Also, most awards are for early stage, so when you’re just starting out, which is as I said critical, but there is also this huge need for mid-career. I think a lot of people don’t recognise how important having a little additional funding and having more focus on that mid-career group can really help to continue to escalate an individual’s career in research.
Lance: Why is the Clinical Accelerator so important for early stage biotechs?
John: The Clinical Accelerator program is an incredibly innovative program that’s being offered by very few foundations, and I can’t applaud you enough for generating funding for that effort.
There is, in academics, a lot of emphasis on very early-stage development with the idea that maybe what’s being worked on will end up being taken up by someone else in the future. It’s not the idea that what they are working on is actually going to end up in a patient clinic. There is a bit of a disconnect, and no straight line from the lab to the clinic. So, I think this program really fills a huge gap for investigators at all stages. Most scientists want to help patients, even though they may just work in a laboratory, so this is an incredible opportunity to help get those ideas to patients.
Lance: For next year’s applicants, what should they be aware of, and what are you looking for? Any guidance?
John: What we are really looking for is concepts that are beyond the pre-clinical stage. We really want something that has been vetted in multiple animal models – that work needs to be completed prior to the funding of the Clinical Accelerator grant. We really want something that’s ready to go and get to patients. So maybe there needs to be some investigational new drug (IND) enabling studies, before getting approval by the regulatory agents to then get into patients. Or something that is already in that process and then can go directly into patients.
There are a lot of great ideas that are out there, that are ready to get into patients, but many times finding the money to do that is very difficult.
Again, this program is really filling a huge gap.
Lance: You’ve been with the Scientific Advisory Committee for the past year, how has that been? Any feedback?
John: I have to say I feel like I’m part of the family. It’s been an incredible experience and watching you come in and really create so many exciting opportunities for the Australian community and honestly for brain cancer research all over the world.
It’s been absolutely wonderful!
By Lance Kawaguchi
Watch this space to follow Lance’s travel in the United States as he meets prominent brain cancer researchers, academics, organisations, and seeks out new collaborations to benefit the brain cancer community and drive awareness for the cause during Brain Cancer Awareness Month.
We are incredibly grateful to CT Partners, Bay Travel, and Alan and Jackie Wolf for generously sponsoring the costs of this trip to enable us to foster these meaningful and necessary collaborations.