June 29, 2020

Ivy Foundation grant supports Winship glioblastoma project

Photo of Ivy Foundation grant supports Winship glioblastoma project

Winship investigator Renee Read, PhD, will receive a $500,000 Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation Emerging Leader Grant Award to support glioblastoma clinical research.

Renee Read, PhD, researcher in the Cell and Molecular Biology Research Program at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University (Winship) and an assistant professor in the Emory Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, has been selected for the Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation Emerging Leader Grant Award, which will provide $500,000 to fund a 24-month project beginning on July 1, 2020.

The funded project, titled "A YAP/TAZ inhibitor for treatment of high grade gliomas," involves a new investigator-initiated Phase I/II clinical trial of the drug verteporfin (VISUDYNE®) for patients with glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and deadly primary brain tumor in adults. Renee Read is principal investigator on the trial and the investigative team includes Winship Phase I Clinical Trials Unit Director R. Donald Harvey, PharmD, neurosurgeon Jeffrey Olson, MD, medical oncologist William Read, MD, and postdoctoral fellow Se-Yeong Oh, PhD.

The new Phase I/II clinical trial will be run out of Winship's Phase I Clinical Trials Unit and will be the first-in-human therapeutic efficacy trial of verteporfin in glioblastoma patients. The Phase I trial will open this fall to patients with recurrent glioblastoma and, following the establishment of non-toxic dosing of verteporfin for glioblastoma patients, the Phase II therapeutic efficacy trial will open.

Renee Read's project started with a small Winship Invest$ pilot grant that funded her lab's initial characterization of the effects of the drug verteporfin on YAP and TAZ transcription factors, which they had identified as potential therapeutic targets in glioblastomas using the lab's own genetic models of glioblastoma.

"With help from Dr. Olson and hard work from my lab's trainees, we continued our research on verteporfin, finding that it can be readily absorbed by human glioblastoma tumor cells in the brain and can slow tumor growth in preclinical models," says Read. "With this generous funding from the Ivy Foundation, we will now evaluate the therapeutic potential of verteporfin in Phase I/II clinical trials in glioblastoma patients and identify biomarkers for response and efficacy. Our team's long term goal is to develop new and effective therapeutic strategies to treat glioblastomas."

"This award reflects the national recognition of the exemplary team work of an outstanding discovery scientist, Dr. Read, with a dedicated neurosurgeon, Dr. Olson, for urgent development of a therapeutic option for glioblastoma patients," said Haian Fu, PhD, leader of Winship's Discovery & Developmental Therapeutics Research Program and chair of the Emory Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology.

The Ivy Foundation Emerging Leader Award provides grant support to early-to-mid-career investigators conducting high-impact, high-reward translational research for glioblastoma. The award supports ambitious pilot projects designed to identify drug strategies appropriate for early-phase pharmacodynamic-and-pharmacokinetic-drive clinical trials in partnership with the Ivy Brain Tumor Center.

"We are looking forward to the critical research Dr. Renee Read and her team will be able to accomplish with this ambitious project," said Catherine Ivy, founder and president of the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation. "Because this grant provides a unique partnership with the Ivy Brain Tumor Center, our hope is that this collaboration will promote future opportunities and ultimately the discovery of new treatment options for patients with glioblastoma."

VISUDYNE®, an FDA-approved drug currently used to treat macular degeneration, is being donated by its maker Bausch Health.

"Effective treatments are desperately needed for this deadly disease and we are proud to provide VISUDYNE® for this important research effort. We congratulate Dr. Read on her award and salute her and her Winship team. We hope that through this and other research, more treatment options for patients suffering from glioblastoma will be found," said Robert Israel, MD, senior vice president, Clinical and Medical Affairs, Bausch Health Companies Inc.

"The resources provided by Winship, Bausch, and the Ivy Foundation, have allowed us to capitalize on my lab's research discoveries. Together, we are dedicated to finding new treatments for glioblastoma patients," says Read.

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