Campus & Community

Dana-Farber launches center to expedite cancer drug discovery and development

3 min read

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute officials recently announced the establishment of the Center for Applied Cancer Science, a far-reaching initiative designed to convert basic molecular discoveries into new therapies for cancer. The center is an integral part of Dana-Farber’s strategic plan, which commits the institute to making major advances in the development of cancer cures by accelerating the translation of scientific advances into novel cancer prevention methods, diagnostic techniques, and therapies.

“Dana-Farber has both the intellectual resources and the responsibility to overcome some of the traditional barriers that have slowed the discovery and development of new cancer therapies,” says Dana-Farber President Edward J. Benz Jr. “Working alongside and with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, we will further improve our academic-corporate collaborations that can, and ultimately will, save lives by translating scientific discoveries into novel, highly effective therapies.”

Under the direction of Ronald A. DePinho, the American Cancer Society Research Professor at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School, the center’s multidisciplinary teams of scientists, project managers, and technology experts – including molecular biologists, cancer geneticists, immunologists, bioinformatic specialists, and clinical investigators – will utilize large-scale, high-resolution methods to discover cancer genes and then use the genes’ unique features to devise specific drugs or antibodies to target them. The center will also harness the intellectual and technological capabilities of the broader Harvard community as well as establishing more productive working relationships with scientists in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

The center will build on Dana-Farber’s expertise in developing mouse models of human cancer to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests for early cancer detection, and to reduce the time it takes to test new cancer drugs or antibodies before going into human trials. The center also will focus on expanding on Dana-Farber’s longstanding success in developing therapeutic antibodies. The center will coordinate the activities of these teams, maximize their internal and external interactions, and supply a shared infrastructure of high-throughput technologies.

“The challenges of cancer are formidable,” says DePinho. “But we believe that we have finally reached a critical threshold of knowledge and technologies that will enable us to identify the genetic Achilles’ heel of cancer and convert these molecular discoveries into novel effective cancer medicines in a more directed and efficient manner.”

Historically, academic-based cancer centers and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have maintained distinct goals, activities, and capabilities. While academic cancer centers excel at basic research and clinical trials, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies possess enormous capability to identify and synthesize drugs.

The new Dana-Farber center will provide an important first step toward integrating and building on these strengths by taking full advantage of the enormous biological and discovery talents of academia, exploiting the predictive value of engineered preclinical models, and utilizing its own vast clinical materials to select the right drugs and patients for specific treatments.

“The Center for Applied Cancer Science represents a new academic construct that, in addition to deciphering cancer’s complexity and discovering new therapeutic leads, has an unprecedented opportunity to change the practice of how drugs are discovered and developed,” says DePinho.