Cancer researchers receive grant to develop immune-based therapies for deadly brain tumors

Brain Scans

Researchers from the UCLA Brain Tumor Center received a $400,000 grant from the PHASE ONE Foundation to support their research in developing immunotherapies for glioblastoma, an aggressive and fast-growing type of brain tumor.

The grant, which is led by Dr. Linda Liau, chair of the neurosurgery department at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Timothy Cloughesy, a professor of neuro-oncology at the Geffen School of Medicine, and Dr. Robert Prins, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the Geffen School of Medicine, helps fill an urgent need for novel and innovative approaches to better treat people diagnosed with the disease.

The average lifespan for someone with glioblastoma is often measured in months and less than 5% of people with glioblastoma live longer than five years. There are limited treatment options and there is a high probability that the tumor will come back after initial treatment. Currently, there is no standard therapy for recurrent glioblastoma.

“We are extremely grateful to receive this grant from PHASE ONE,” said Liau, who is also a scientist at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “With this support, we have the potential to change the way glioblastoma is treated and provide patients with a new therapy that has the potential to support long-term survival.”

The funding will help open a clinical trial testing a combination treatment strategy using checkpoint inhibitors in conjunction with a personalized dendritic cell vaccine, which was developed by Liau at UCLA. The team hopes by combining the two treatments they will be able to create a new way to treat people with brain cancer, as well as develop new ways to track the immune response.

“We already have had preliminary success using checkpoint inhibitors to treat patients in a previous clinical trial,” said Cloughesy, who is also a scientist at the Jonsson Cancer Center. “By combining the two immune-based treatments, we hope to bring in more T-cells that will attack cancer cells that would otherwise go unnoticed by the body’s immune system.”

“Dr. Liau led the trial that gave my late husband seven healthy years, post terminal brain cancer diagnosis,” said Meritt Elliott, Board Member of PHASE ONE and co-founder of THE GREAT. “At the time, she was a pioneer in the immunology approach to treatment, and I have watched her research progress to be even more effective and collaborative. She is a uniquely brilliant, compassionate and forward-thinking doctor and researcher, and I am incredibly pleased that PHASE ONE is able to help fund her next wave of research. Brain cancer is such a fierce and fickle disease, that requires aggressive, nimble and competent treatment – and her approach encompasses all of these qualities. I’ve witnessed her first group of patients from trials in the early 2000s exceed life expectancy and continue to thrive, which is proof that this is working, and that her efforts using a layered approach to finding a cure should be continued.”

PHASE ONE is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting ground-breaking Phase I and Phase II clinical cancer research, innovative education and treatment programs, and funding forward-thinking leaders in the scientific and medical community.