NCI Provides Funding to Advance Kidney Cancer Detection and Treatment

August 5, 2016

The NCI is granting the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center the Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) award worth $11 million to help advance new treatments.

A new war has been declared on renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in the hopes of improving detection and treatment. In attempt to address the rising threat of RCC, The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is taking unprecedented steps toward combating it. The NCI is granting the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center the Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) award worth $11 million to help advance new treatments.

RCC currently has no method of early detection and is particularly challenging to treat. The highly competitive SPORE award from the NCI is the first for kidney cancer research earned by a single institution and only the second in the nation.

UT Southwestern researchers have identified and characterized a key protein called hypoxia inducible factor-2α (HIF-2α) involved in RCC. These findings led to the development of a drug therapy now in clinical development. The agent is simply called PT2385 (Peloton Therapeutics, Inc.) and it is a first-in-class small molecule targeting HIF-2α, a transcription factor implicated in the development and progression of renal and other cancers.

“We are translating seminal discoveries and technological innovation at UT Southwestern to expand treatment options for both adult and pediatric kidney cancer patients,” said principal investigator James Brugarolas, MD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, in a news release. “These funds will support a variety of new and ongoing activities including the development of a new drug, studies of kidney cancer subtypes in adults and children, and a novel approach to determine what small tumors may be deadly.”

Nearly 400,000 Americans are currently living with a diagnosis of kidney cancer. It is usually found incidentally during imaging for a different purpose. More than 60,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2016.

The UT Southwestern SPORE program involves four innovative disease and clinical research teams targeting adult and pediatric RCC. The program also includes a patient advocate group, a developmental research program, a career enhancement program, and core facilities to support these efforts through data analysis, imaging technology, and a tissue repository.

The four teams will be searching for biomarkers to identify kidney tumors most likely to respond to an HIF-2α inhibitor. They will investigate treatment resistance, which is very common. They will also investigate the function of a gene that identifies a cluster of particularly aggressive tumors associated with clear cell RCC in the hopes of identifying vulnerabilities that can be targeted with drugs. 

This award marks a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to RCC with more than 40 scientists. It may help significantly advance the use of precision medicine for RCC. The teams will examine kidney cancer metabolism to distinguish aggressive tumors from less aggressive tumors, potentially yielding a tailored treatment approach. It is hoped that some patients may be able to avoid treatment and only undergo active surveillance following initial diagnosis. Another major push of this program will be to test novel treatments for childhood RCC by researching the implications of a Wilms tumor subtype.