Ziskin Prize Winners Will Collaborate to Further Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors for Treating Breast Cancer

Ziskin Prize Winners Will Collaborate to Further Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors for Treating Breast Cancer
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Two prominent breast cancer scientists will use their shared $250,000 Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) grant to collaborate on the development of new therapies for treating breast cancer — and hopefully reducing mortality rates.

SU2C’s 2020 Laura Ziskin Prize in Translational Research was awarded to Leisha A. Emens, MD, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hillman Cancer Center, and Xiang Zhang, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine.

The award for the new, year-long research project, which will combine the doctors’ expertise in both breast cancer immuno-oncology and tumor immunology, was presented at this year’s SU2C Scientific Summit, held in January in Santa Monica, Calif. Specifically, the researchers will seek to further the availability of immune checkpoint inhibitors — a class of treatment that blocks proteins called checkpoints that are used by cancer cells to evade immune surveillance.

“With their diverse backgrounds and complementary expertise, we’re confident that these two investigators will make great contributions to further develop therapies that could provide improved outcomes for breast cancer patients — and potentially reduce mortality rates,” John Glaspy, MD, selection committee co-chair, said in a press release.

A professor of medicine in hematology and oncology at UPMC, Emens is co-leader of the Hillman Cancer immunology and immunotherapy program. She’s also director of translational immunotherapy for the UPMC Women’s Cancer Research Center, and has received global recognition for breast cancer immunotherapy research.

Emens has a breast cancer vaccine to her credit. She shepherded Roche’s Tecentriq (atezolizumab) from preclinical assessment in human breast tumors ultimately to Phase 3 clinical trials, leading to federal approval of the therapy in advanced triple negative breast cancer.

For his part, Zhang, a professor at Baylor’s Breast Center, has focused his research on metastatic breast cancer, a condition in which the disease has spread to other parts of the body. He discovered a region in bones that promotes survival and growth of breast cancer cells, leading to bone metastasis. He also invented a host of preclinical models and technologies aimed at advancing anti-metastasis drug discovery.

Zhang also has made important discoveries about tumor microenvironment and its reaction to checkpoint blockade treatments. Such discoveries have helped scientists better understand the affect of these interactions on therapies.

The duo was chosen for the award following a rigorous competitive review process that sought to identify the best research proposal for funding,

The Ziskin Prize is named for Hollywood producer and SU2C co-founder Laura Ziskin, who lived with breast cancer for seven years before her 2011 death. As was her wish, $1.1 million in award funding comes from her estate.

Stand Up To Cancer raises funds to speed research for new treatments. As of last December, some 1,600 investigators representing roughly 180 institutions were involved in SU2C-funded research.

Mary M. Chapman began her professional career at United Press International, running both print and broadcast desks. She then became a Michigan correspondent for what is now Bloomberg BNA, where she mainly covered the automotive industry plus legal, tax and regulatory issues. A member of the Automotive Press Association and one of a relatively small number of women on the car beat, Chapman has discussed the automotive industry multiple times of National Public Radio, and in 2014 was selected as an honorary judge at the prestigious Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance. She has written for numerous national outlets including Time, People, Al-Jazeera America, Fortune, Daily Beast, MSN.com, Newsweek, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. The winner of the Society of Professional Journalists award for outstanding reporting, Chapman has had dozens of articles in The New York Times, including two on the coveted front page. She has completed a manuscript about centenarian car enthusiast Margaret Dunning, titled “Belle of the Concours.”
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Inês holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, where she specialized in blood vessel biology, blood stem cells, and cancer. Before that, she studied Cell and Molecular Biology at Universidade Nova de Lisboa and worked as a research fellow at Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologias and Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. Inês currently works as a Managing Science Editor, striving to deliver the latest scientific advances to patient communities in a clear and accurate manner.Inês currently works as a Managing Science Editor, striving to deliver the latest scientific advances to patient communities in a clear and accurate manner.
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Mary M. Chapman began her professional career at United Press International, running both print and broadcast desks. She then became a Michigan correspondent for what is now Bloomberg BNA, where she mainly covered the automotive industry plus legal, tax and regulatory issues. A member of the Automotive Press Association and one of a relatively small number of women on the car beat, Chapman has discussed the automotive industry multiple times of National Public Radio, and in 2014 was selected as an honorary judge at the prestigious Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance. She has written for numerous national outlets including Time, People, Al-Jazeera America, Fortune, Daily Beast, MSN.com, Newsweek, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. The winner of the Society of Professional Journalists award for outstanding reporting, Chapman has had dozens of articles in The New York Times, including two on the coveted front page. She has completed a manuscript about centenarian car enthusiast Margaret Dunning, titled “Belle of the Concours.”
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