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Dana-Farber named part of Stand Up to Cancer ‘dream team’

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has been named part of a Stand Up to Cancer “dream team” focused on treatments aimed at prompting a person’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. Dana-Farber researchers will receive $1.5 million of a $10 million grant over three years and will partner with leading cancer centers in the United States and abroad, including Memorial-Sloan Kettering and MD Anderson, among others.

Dr. Glenn Dranoff, who leads the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center program on cancer immunology, said the money will allow him and colleagues to collect more tissue and blood samples from patients who are receiving specific experimental treatments, work he said can be difficult to fund.

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“By bringing investigators together through this mechanism, the hope is to accelerate, in this case, new and more potent cancer immunotherapies,” Dranoff said.

Stand Up to Cancer is known for rallying the stars to support cancer research. (This is the same group for which Ty Burrell of “Modern Family” goes caroling.) Much of the money for this team, created in partnership with the nonprofit Cancer Research Institute, comes from Sean Parker, who shaped Napster and Facebook.

The focus of the project is to advance two kinds of treatments. One already is being used to treat certain cancers, such as advanced melanoma. Immune “checkpoints” regulate the bodies’ response to disease. A drug Dana-Farber researchers helped to develop effectively turns up that response.

“These drugs essentially ease the brake, and in so doing you uncover that the immune system does have a very clear ability to destroy tumor cells,” said Dranoff, who is the founding editor of a new journal, Cancer Immunology Research.

It’s not clear, however, why some patients respond to the drug and some don’t, he said. Part of the team’s efforts will be focused on that question. The researchers also will work on a still-experimental treatment in which a patient’s T cells are altered in the lab, and the possibility of combining the two kinds of immunotherapy.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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