Andre Lieber, MD, PhD named 2016-2018 Lester and Bernice Smith Fellow

Press Release · August 1, 2016

Andre Lieber, MD, PhD has been named the 2016-2018 Lester and Bernice Smith Fellow. Dr. Lieber will receive $150,000 in funding over two years to advance his research that may lead to a new prophylactic option for women at high risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer.

SEATTLE – August 1, 2016 – The Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer announced Andre Lieber, MD, PhD of the University of Washington as the 2016-2018 Lester and Bernice Smith Fellow. Dr. Lieber will receive a $150,000 grant award for the period August 1, 2016 through July 31, 2018 to advance his research project, Immuno-Prophylaxis of Ovarian Cancer Associated with High-Risk Germ Line Mutations. Lieber’s project seeks to aid the development of a vaccine to bolster the body’s immune system to prevent ovarian and breast cancer from developing in healthy high risk women. If successful, Lieber’s approach could also lead to advances for women currently living with ovarian and breast cancer as well as patients with other types of cancer. The Lester and Bernice Smith Fellowship is named in recognition of an underwriting gift by the Lester and Bernice Smith Foundation.

Immuno-Prophylaxis of Ovarian Cancer Associated with High-Risk Germ Line Mutations proposes a prophylactic gene therapy approach to introduce genes encoding antibodies into hematopoietic stem cells from the bone marrow. Ovarian cancer cells normally produce signals that inhibit immune cells from attacking and thereby evade destruction by the immune system. Ovarian cancer cells also attract hematopoietic stem cells from the bone marrow which will mature into peripheral blood cells and aid in the growth and metastasis of the cancer cells. The approach of Dr. Lieber’s project is to modify hematopoietic stem cells with genes encoding antibodies against PD-L1 and CTLA4, which are both molecules that inhibit immune system function. If the modified stem cells are ever called upon by ovarian cancer cells, instead of helping the cancer cells to growth, the modified stem cells will produce antibodies that will remove the inhibition of the immune system. The immune system will then be able to function properly and destroy the ovarian cancer cells. This project will demonstrate whether this approach will prevent the development of spontaneous cancer in cancer-prone mouse models of ovarian and breast cancer. Successful results in this study could translate into a future clinical trial available to women at high risk for ovarian and breast cancer. Successful results could also translated to ovarian cancer patients to prevent or delay ovarian and breast cancer recurrence after standard treatment and may be relevant for treating other types of cancer.

More than one in five ovarian and breast carcinomas appear to be associated with inherited risk. Currently women with breast or ovarian or cancer in their families are advised to undergo genetic testing for cancer pre-disposing genetic mutations. Those for whom testing reveals high-risk mutations have few options except preventative surgeries to remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and/or breasts. “The medical community doesn’t have a lot to offer high risk women right now,” said Mary L. “Nora” Disis, MD, the Rivkin Center’s scientific and medical director. “This project has good potential to translate into spinoff studies that could help these women and hopefully turn into a clinical trial. If successful it could help lead to a whole new avenue of cancer prevention.”

Lieber was selected as the 2016-2018 Lester and Bernice Smith Fellow by members of the Rivkin Center’s 50+ person scientific grant review committee, which is comprised of leading members of the ovarian cancer research community in the United States and abroad. The initial invitation to apply for this opportunity was extended in March 2016 to 26 past recipients of the Rivkin Center’s Pilot Study Award, a one-year $75,000 grant supporting investigator-initiated projects in all areas of ovarian cancer research. Award recipients in good standing with the Rivkin Center that have published their Rivkin-funded work in a top scientific journal were encouraged to apply. These individuals represent some of the most prestigious institutions in the world, including Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals as well as and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Of the 26 scientists invited to submit letters of intent to apply for this opportunity, four were invited to submit full applications. Dr. Lieber’s proposal received superior ratings as it is thought to offer the best odds at developing a novel approach for understanding ovarian cancer with the ultimate goals of improving prevention of the disease in some women.

“The Rivkin Center is very excited to be able to fund a project that might be too radical for federal funding right now, because Lieber’s approach, while very promising in animal models, hasn’t yet been proven to be effective in humans,” said Rivkin Center Executive Director Joe White. “Dr. Lieber has a good track record of securing both federal and corporate support and we are confident that this particular project will be well poised for a major federal grant in a couple years.”

The 2016-2017 Lester and Bernice Smith Fellow is the largest grant awarded by the Rivkin Center in 2016 and is one of 17 grants totaling nearly $1.5 million that the Rivkin Center will award this year. In the 20 years since its inception in 1996, the Rivkin Center has invested more than $9 million in ovarian cancer research grants to scientific investigators, making it one of the oldest and largest private global funders of ovarian cancer research. The Rivkin Center is committed to funding the most promising research proposals, regardless of the researchers’ institutional affiliation or nationality. A recent analysis of Rivkin grant awards made from 2008 to 2013 showed that $4.7 million in donor-funded research grants to 73 investigators translated into over $33 million in new grants from other funding agencies – a 7.2 fold return on investment.