Walking with Strength, Courage and Hope for the Cure to Rare Sarcoma Cancers

Alliance for Cancer Gene TherapyWendy Walk is proud to partner with Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), the nation’s only nonprofit dedicated exclusively to cell and gene therapies for cancer, to announce a new Clinical Translation Grant recipient.

The Wendy Walk ACGT Sarcoma Grant 2016 is awarded to Dr. Crystal Mackall, professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at Stanford University, associate director of the Stanford Cancer Institute, and leader of the Cancer and Immunology and Immunotherapy Program. Dr. Mackall will receive a $500,000 Clinical Translation Grant for her work studying osteosarcoma.

Dr. Crystal Mackall, Stanford

Dr. Crystal Mackall will lead Stanford’s efforts to advance clinical trials of immune therapies for cancer. (photo credit: Norbert von der Groeben)

Osteosarcoma is the most common bone tumor cancer that represents about five percent of all pediatric tumors. The five year survival rate is approximately 50 percent, so there is clearly a need for improved therapeutics for this disease. Sarcoma in general is a rare cancer of the connective tissues, such as nerves, muscles, and bones. Sarcomas can arise anywhere in the body and are frequently hidden deep in the limbs. They are often misdiagnosed and assumed to be sports injuries or benign bumps, especially in teens. Sarcomas are rare tumors, comprising less than one percent of adults’ cancers and nearly 21% percent of children’s cancers.

Dr. Mackall’s research is designed to improve upon earlier clinical studies in osteosarcoma, other sarcomas and neuroblastomas that express the tumor antigen GD2 (a mutant antibody) using engineered CAR T cells. The hypothesis of this proposal is that it will be possible to improve outcomes by (1) increasing the persistence of CAR-T cells and (2) differentiation of suppressor cells. If successful, this proposed trial could significantly improve outcomes for patients with this malignancy. The purpose of the grant is to fund original research that could translate into a clinical trial and possible pharmacological and toxicological studies using gene and immunotherapy.

ACGT has a 15 year history of funding innovative cancer research studies and this year marked several major accomplishments including surpassing $26.4 million in funding these types of basic and clinical translation cell and gene therapy studies. Dr. Mackall is ACGT’s 50th grant recipient and will be the 16th clinical translation grantee. This is particularly exciting given ACGT’s commitment to contributing 100 percent of donations directly to research.

Wendy Walk board member Julia Lyons, ACGT President and Co-Founder Barbara Netter, and Director of Programming Emily Carter at 2016 ACGT Scientific Symposium Discovery Awards.

Wendy Walk board member Julia Lyons, ACGT President and Co-Founder Barbara Netter, and Director of Programming Emily Carter at 2016 ACGT Scientific Symposium Discovery Awards.

Additional breakthroughs carried out by ACGT grantees, like Dr. Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania and his work successfully treating leukemia through cancer gene therapy, have been touted in recent national documentaries aired on PBS and HBO and are showing a 90 percent remission rate of children and adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia that have gone into remission after participating in a personalized cellular therapy trial. ACGT-funded work is also attracting increasing attention from the pharmaceutical industry, which is swiftly discovering the potential of cell and gene therapies.

Both Dr. Carl June and Dr. Crystal Mackall are site directors for the The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy – a collaboration between the country’s leading immunologists and cancer centers — Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford University, UCLA, UCSF, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Wendy Walk, which co-funds the ACGT Sarcoma grant, was founded in 2010 by Ali, Matt, and Jackie Landes to raise funds and awareness for Liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer that their mother, Wendy, was diagnosed with. Despite her tragic passing in March of 2013, Wendy’s legacy has been kept alive through the organization and continues to be an inspiration to others battling the disease. With a profoundly personal understanding of how cancer impacts the entire family system, Wendy Walk is committed to helping families cope with the unique challenges sarcoma brings. Wendy Walk works to provide courage, strength and hope to families and patients battling sarcoma through charitable social and athletic events held all over the country. The organization’s most notable events are walks which take place each spring in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and Park City. Through the walks, supporters have contributed over $3.5 million. The funds raised allows the Wendy Walk to continually fulfill its mission to find and develop new innovative treatments for sarcoma and serve as a valuable resource for those impacted by this rare disease.