Columbia Team Awarded New Prostate Cancer Grant for Innovative Precision Cancer Research

A research team from Columbia University Irving Medical Center has received a 2018 PCF Challenge Award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) to advance prostate cancer research. The interdisciplinary team at Columbia includes leading experts in systems biology, cancer research and medicine from Columbia’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) and the Department of Systems Biology

Announced today, PCF is awarding more than $5.5 million in funding to a total of six teams to conduct research with the highest potential for accelerating new and improved treatments for advanced prostate cancer. PCF is one of the largest non-governmental organizations dedicated solely to funding prostate cancer research, and its annual Challenge Awards are highly coveted in the scientific and medical fields. 

In the United States, prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer, and 1 out of every 9 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the disease in his lifetime. To date, treatment of the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer represents a clinical challenge. After treatment failure with anti-androgen drugs, which are part of the standard of care for advanced metastatic prostate cancer, only few current therapeutic options remain and the impact on patient survival is limited. Indeed, the field needs major innovative, out-of-the-box approaches to new therapies to combat advanced prostate cancer. 

The Columbia team will combine their expertise in systems biology, basic science, immunology, pathology and medicine, to focus on developing precision medicine treatments that target the prostate tumor microenvironment. The team is led by principal investigators Michael Shen, PhD, Charles Drake, MD, PhD, and Andrea Califano, Dr. They will apply experimentally validated computational tools, developed by the Califano lab, to identify master regulator proteins that drive aggressive prostate cancer, as well as drugs or combination drugs that can specifically target these proteins, in combination with advanced technologies from Dr. Shen’s lab for single-cell RNA sequencing, organoid culture and multiplexed immunostaining. The combined approaches will be used to carry out a proof-of-concept precision oncology trial, led by Dr. Drake, for patients with lethal metastatic prostate cancer at the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital.

Co-investigators of the winning grant, “Master Regulators Underlying Tumor-Microenvironment Interactions in Metastatic Prostate Cancer,” include Cory Abate-Shen, PhD (CUIMC), Susan Bates, MD (James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center), Antonio Tito Fojo, MD, PhD (James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center), Massimo Loda, MD (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and Francesco Cambuli, PhD (CUIMC/Shen lab).

The six winning teams of the PCF Challenge Award were selected from a pool of 70 international applications following a rigorous peer review process that assessed each project’s scientific merit and potential impact to patients. Funding will support international, multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary teams of scientists, and this year’s grant recipients hail from Imperial College London, UCLA, UC San Francisco, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Technical University of Munich, Ludwin Cancer Research, University of Bern, Harvard: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic. 

-Melanie A. Farmer