The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has renewed its support for Baylor College of Medicine by providing the organization with a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant. The grant, awarded to Baylor’s Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center totaled more than U.S. $11 million over five years.[1]

The funding will help the Baylor team, traditionally focusing on improving prevention, health-related quality of life (hrQoL) and survival for breast cancer patients, to increase research for better treatment and a potential cure for metastatic breast cancer

“The SPORE (grant) [] will [help in] state-of-the-art translational research by making new discoveries in the laboratory and translating them to the clinic for improved care of patients with breast cancer,” said C. Kent Osborne, M.D. professor and director of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dudley and Tina Sharp Chair for Cancer Research at Baylor and original principal investigator of the SPORE.

Photo: Matthew J. Ellis, MB, BChir, BSc., Ph.D., FRCP, professor, and director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor and current principal investigator of the SPORE. Photo courtesy: © 2020 Baylor College of Medicine®. Used with permission.

“I could not be more grateful to have the opportunity to continue Dr. Osborne’s legacy of leadership in the National Cancer Institute’s SPORE program,” noted Matthew J. Ellis, MB, BChir, BSc., Ph.D., FRCP, professor, and director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor and current principal investigator of the SPORE.

“We were funded based on our first renewal application, which is a testament to the organizational structure, scientific progress, and faculty advancement associated with successful SPORE grants,” he added. [1]

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Treatment barriers
The SPORE will include three main projects addressing treatment barriers in advanced breast cancer.

One project will focus on endocrine therapy resistance in estrogen receptor-α positive (ER+) cancer and will involve clinical trials to determine effective therapies for patients with a loss of the NF1 tumor suppressor gene. Another project will examine the loss of the PTPN12 tumor suppressor in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and will evaluate the efficacy of targeted therapy in metastatic TNBC patients.

The last project will involve developing a new therapeutic approach for MYC-positive breast cancer, which will also be tested in a clinical trial. Ellis said the fact that each project includes an active trial at the beginning of the grant accelerates progress.

Three reformatted Cores will provide support to all research projects. The Pathology and Biobanking Core will be a shared resource for tissue specimens used in the clinical trials and will coordinate pathology activities across all research projects. The Informatics and Statistics Core will provide biostatistics consultation and data analysis and develop and maintain databases. The Administrative Core will provide organizational and managerial support and will work with external advisors and advocates.

Osborne and his team were awarded one of the first four SPOREs while at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio in 1992. In 1999, Osborne left San Antonio and took his team to Houston, starting what is now known as the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine, a unit of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Along with the faculty, Osborne also brought the Breast Cancer SPORE to Baylor with him. Many of those original 13 faculty members are still working alongside him in the Duncan Cancer Center.

“SPOREs usually don’t leave the originally awarded institution,” Osborne said. “I was able to bring the SPORE because the entire program came to Baylor with me.”

After 26 years leading the SPORE, Osborne handed the leadership over to Ellis. The recent five-year renewal of this SPORE makes it one of the longest-running grants of its kind.

“Every time we apply for the SPORE, the slate is wiped clean. We don’t get preferential treatment because we’ve held this award for so long,” said Dr. Susan Hilsenbeck, professor at the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center and original SPORE awardee. “The fact that we’ve continuously been funded by this program is proof of the passionate research and consistency of excellence for the Breast Center, the Cancer Center, and Baylor.”

Research at the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center is also supported by funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen®, U.S. Department of Defense, National Cancer Institute, Harley’s Angels, Nancy Owens Breast Cancer Foundation, Kathy S. Harkey Breast Cancer Foundation, Adopt-A-Scientist — Cure Cancer, M.D. Anderson Foundation, Theresa’s Research Foundation, Baylor’s Breast Cancer Advocacy Champions, the McNair Medical Institute at The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Lester and Sue Smith Foundation among many others.

“An enormous thank you goes to all the organizations and donors who have supported our center over the years,” said Ellis, also a McNair Scholar, CPRIT Scholar, and 2019 Susan G. Komen Brinker Awardee and associate director of precision medicine at the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Without their support, this SPORE application would not have been successful,” Ellis concluded.

[1] Translational Research Program (TRP); is Specialized Programs of Research Excellence. National Cancer Institute. Online. Last accessed on July 27, 2020

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