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Collaborating to fight cancer with knowledge

Researchers at Northeastern University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have long recognized and taken advantage of the complementary strengths of the two institutions.

“Our collaboration with Dana-Farber has been rich over the years,” said Stephen Zoloth, Northeastern’s dean of academic affairs for external programs and vice provost for health research. “But it has generally been initiated by individual collaborators.”

Northeastern and Dana-Farber recently formalized their collaborative potential by creating a Joint Program in Cancer Drug Discovery. Each institution will contribute $100,000 per year over the next two years to fund four research projects with obvious future potential.

“This is yet another example of the depth of complementary talents in Boston that allows us to tackle critical health problems by deploying a broad range of needed disciplines,” said Mel Bernstein, Northeastern’s senior vice provost for research and graduate education.

The winning projects, which were announced last month, cover a variety of research areas in cancer drug discovery and development, from chemical analysis of novel drugs to improved delivery methods of known drugs. Each consists of at least one researcher from Northeastern and Dana-Farber and focuses on a scientific question that can be easily translated to the clinic.

Northeastern chemistry professor John Engen and Nathanael Gray, a Dana-Farber associate professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, for example, are teaming up to characterize the effectiveness of a variety of potential cancer drugs, which inhibit a mutated gene common among 20 to 30 percent of all human cancers.

Mansoor Amiji, distinguished professor and chair of Northeastern’s pharmaceutical sciences department, will join forces with Michael Goldberg, a Dana-Farber assistant professor of microbiology and immunobiology, to evaluate novel therapeutic combinations for treating ovarian cancer, leveraging Amiji’s expertise in targeted delivery and Goldberg’s expertise in cancer biology.

A team of three Northeastern researchers, including chemistry and chemical biology chair Graham Jones, theoretical chemical biology professor Mary Ondrechen and biology professor Michail Sitkovsky, will team up with Dana-Farber associate professor of medicine Glenn Dranoff with the goal of developing a new generation of cancer drugs that can be used in concert with cancer vaccination strategies.

Finally, David Frank, a Dana-Farber associate professor of medicine, and Alexander Ivanov, a Northeastern research associate professor of chemistry, will explore the various proteomic alterations caused by a single genetic factor and implicated in a variety of cancer types.

The joint program is expected to eliminate many of the traditional hurdles faced by otherwise promising inter-institutional collaborations, the very nature of which can delay their forward momentum.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for two outstanding neighboring institutions to leverage each other’s considerable strengths,” said Barrett Rollins, Dana-Farber’s chief scientific officer. “By combining the cancer focus of Dana-Farber, the drug-development expertise of Northeastern and the chemical skills of both, we can make an impact on the lives of patients with cancer.”


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