Fox Chase Researchers Receive Melanoma Research Alliance Grant Award for Pilot Project

Alfonso Bellacosa, MD, PhD, professor in the Cancer Epigenetics program and principle investigator for the project.
Alfonso Bellacosa, MD, PhD, professor in the Cancer Epigenetics program and principle investigator for the project.

PHILADELPHIA (December 16, 2020)—A team of scientists from Fox Chase Cancer Center received a pilot award from the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) for a research project that will investigate a new drug target for the treatment of melanoma that combines aspects of epigenetics and immunotherapy.

“We are very excited about receiving this grant, because we really think this could be a new approach for the treatment of melanoma,” said Alfonso Bellacosa, MD, PhD, professor in the Cancer Epigenetics program at Fox Chase. He is the principal investigator for the project, which will include other researchers from Fox Chase, including Tim J. Yen, PhDJames S. Duncan, PhDJohn Karanicolas, PhD, and scientists from the Wistar Institute and Yale University.

Epigenetics explores how the expression of DNA can be changed without changing its structure, which is key to preventing diseases and creating treatments for them. Immunotherapy is a class of biological therapies that optimizes the tools of the body’s immune system to fight cancer more effectively.

The project will focus on thymine DNA glycosylase (TDG), a well-known DNA repair enzyme that the Bellacosa lab identified as an important epigenetic factor. In the research proposal, the research team hypothesized that “TDG is a new drug target—at the interface of epigenetic and immune therapy—that is critical for the survival of melanoma cells; TDG inhibition may subvert innate anti-PD1 resistance and sensitize a fraction of metastatic melanoma patients to immunotherapy.”

The proposal goes on to state that TDG inhibitors would be first-in-class epigenetic drugs, which could represent transformative therapeutics for metastatic melanoma.

“We have the strong suspicion,” Bellacosa said, “that if we block TDG, not only will it slow the growth of the melanoma cells, but we can actually render them more inflammatory so they could become recognized by the immune system with the help of immunotherapy.”

The grant includes funding of $50,000 per year through 2022. The grant award comes from MRA’s Request for Proposals, which “calls for ideas that have the potential to lead to near-term clinical application in melanoma prevention, detection, diagnosis, staging, and treatment.”

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence six consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

For more information, call 888-369-2427