Nonprofit established by local couple awards doctors funding for innovative cancer research

The Stamford-based Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), a nonprofit established by a Greenwich couple that is dedicated exclusively to cell and gene therapy research, has made major strides in cancer treatment, and grants recently awarded by ACGT to two research scientists are expected to help bring the organization a step further.

In an interview with the Post, Barbara Netter, who co-founded ACGT with her late husband, Edward, said the nonprofit has awarded its 2012 “Young Investigator” grants to Alexander Stegh Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University, and to Douglas Mahoney Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Disease at the University of Calgary, Canada, pending final contract approval.

Since its inception, ACGT has awarded 27 grants to Young Investigators and 14 grants to Clinical Investigators, totaling $23.7 million in funding for innovative cancer research and clinical translation. Investigators are chosen after completing a rigorous application and review process by ACGT’s Scientific Advisory Council, which is comprised of 16 renowned physicians and researchers. Young Investigator grants range from $250,000 to $500,000 over a two- to three-year period and have been awarded to scientists who represent 30 prestigious institutions around the country, Ms. Netter said.

The award funds assistant professors on the tenure track who conduct independent and innovative cell and gene therapy cancer research in their own labs. ACGT grants are typically the first they have received, which later tends to attract additional funding, Ms. Netter said. Accordingly, the awards are critical in helping Young Investigators establish their independence.

Dr. Stegh will use his grant to fund a research study into a potential new treatment for brain cancer. The study aims to create a better understanding of metabolic vulnerabilities to the most common and aggressive primary brain tumor in humans, glioblastoma. Through the study, Dr. Stegh hopes to establish more effective methods of destroying this type of cancer.

“This cancer is very resistant to treatment,” Ms. Netter said, which made Dr. Stegh a promising candidate for the Young Investigator award, along with the “excellent application” he produced for the review process.

Dr. Mahoney is ACGT’s first international grantee, hailing from Canada. His study will focus on oncolytic virus therapy, which, unlike conventional drugs, uses a virus to orchestrate tumor cell death in multiple ways, and infects and kills cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue. Virus-based treatment is considered among the most promising gene therapy techniques, and Dr. Mahoney will work to engineer the next generation of viruses to break through treatment barriers, Ms. Netter said. Although his initial research was on breast cancer, the technique can be used against many cancers, she said.

ACGT is “hoping good research” will come from the newest Young Investigators, Ms. Netter said. Given the “enormous results” and recent breakthroughs in leukemia treatments pioneered by the University of Pennsylvania’s Carl June, one of ACGT’s first Clinical Translation grantees, ACGT is optimistic, she said.

Today, nine out of 12 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who received gene therapy treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania remain healthy and in full remission more than two years after their treatment — treatment that would not have been possible had it not been for the start-up funding provided by ACGT, and Mr. and Ms. Netter, expressly for that purpose.

ACGT is always in need of funding and 100% of all contributions to the nonprofit go directly to research and grant funding with leading scientists in the country. To donate, visit acgtfoundation.org or call 203-358-8000.

 

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