Take a closer look…
Chances are you don’t get many Requests for Scientific Proposals in the mail. This one is different.
Mostly, it’s different because this one has your name on it. It comes from the MPN Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as part of its 2014 Challenge Grants Program. In addition to offering several hundred thousands of dollars, the request for proposals spells out what the Foundation thinks we have to be looking at in coming years.
And when the group that has funded every major development in contemporary MPN science lays out its criteria for making research grants, it’s well worth a close look.
Here’s an example: The big late-breaking news at ASH this year was the CALR discoveries published in two separate journals. And here’s the abstract from the New England Journal of Medicine. (You can click on it to blow it up a bit.) Look at the footnotes and you’ll see why the MPN Research Foundation is our best hope for a cure.
When you scan this Request for Proposals document, spend a couple of minutes on the Focus Areas for 2014 MPN Challenge Grants section produced by Barbara Van Husen and the Foundation team. These few lines describe the landscape of near-term basic MPN scientific research, the terrain from which the next generation of drugs may well emerge.
“The whole point of the MPN Research Foundation is to award grants that will make a difference for patients.”
The whole point of the MPN Research Foundation is to award grants that will make a difference for patients. One of our most creatively productive activities is writing the requests for proposals. That’s where we get to direct research to areas where we feel it is most needed.
Our current RFP is our most specifically targeted program ever. After rubbing shoulders all year with the best and the brightest researchers at ASH, at ASCO, at the MPN Challenge Forum and honing our ideas with Dr. Andrew Schafer the head of our advisory board, Dr. John Crispino our scientific advisor, we are confident of these that these underexplored ideas merit attention. And we hope that this RFP will bring in the kind of world class scientific inquiry that is needed.
THE 2014 MPN CHALLENGE
A GRANT PROGRAM SUPPORTED JOINTLY BY THE MPN RESEARCH FOUNDATION AND THE LEUKEMIA & LYMPHOMA SOCIETY
Call for Proposals: 02/10/2014
The MPN Research Foundation (MPNRF) and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) are proud to announce The 2014 MPN Challenge, a grant program whose objective is to change the trajectory and ultimate prognosis for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), including MF, PV and ET. This program represents an important partnership between MPNRF and LLS, who share a mission to advance the scientific understanding of MPNs and bring new treatments and the hope for a cure to patients with these rare diseases.
Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are a closely related group of hematological malignancies in which the bone marrow cells that produce the body’s blood cells develop and function abnormally. The three main myeloproliferative neoplasms are Polycythemia Vera (PV), Essential Thrombocythemia (ET) and Primary Myelofibrosis (MF or PMF). The MPNs are progressive blood cancers that can strike anyone at any age, and for which there is no known cure. In some patients MPN terminates in conversion to acute leukemia (particularly AML).
In recent years, the MPN community was encouraged by the discovery of the JAK2 V617 mutation found in almost all PV patients, and about 50% of ET and MF patients. This first discovery of a genetic mutation that relates to the MPNs ignited a quantum leap in the level of discourse and inquiry into the genetic causes of these diseases. Many resources were directed towards inhibiting the constitutive activity of this mutant JAK2, with the expectation that a successful drug would provide an important new treatment option.
As a consequence of this research, a number of JAK2 inhibitors are currently in clinical trial(s) and are beginning to receive FDA approval. To date these drugs have demonstrated significant benefits in reducing many constitutional issues (such as enlarged spleen), and with longitudinal studies now underway, may in the future demonstrate a positive impact on disease survival. Additional genetic mutations have been found in some MPN patients (including the exciting discovery of the CALR mutation late in 2013), and are contributing further to our understanding of the genetic complexity of the MPNs.
Perspective of MPN Patients
As patient advocacy organizations, MPNRF and LLS receive many calls and emails from MPN patients, and over many years we recognize common threads. Patients with ET, PV or MF have concerns about symptoms, treatment options, and quality of life, but their most pressing concern is prognosis – will my disease progress, will I get MF, will I convert to AML? Our most harrowing calls are with MF patients, who face the bleakest prognosis and the greatest fears.
The emergence of new treatments for MF patients is encouraging, but until there is proof that these emerging treatments actually change the course of these diseases, these fears will remain. We at MPNRF and LLS seek to change this future, and we believe a focus on new approaches towards MPN research can change the trajectory of these diseases. We seek the help of independent researchers who can join us in an attempt to achieve that goal.
History of MF/MPN Challenge to Date
In 2011 the MPN Research Foundation and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society initiated the MF Challenge, a grant program focused on the cause and potential elimination of bone marrow fibrosis in MF patients. We began this program because in spite of the current level of activity in MPN research, there were important questions that remained unanswered, and the most urgent were those associated with MF, the most virulent of the MPNs.
In 2012 and 2013 the MF Challenge awarded 8 Concept Grants aimed at bringing new ideas, approaches, and investigators to the subject of bone marrow fibrosis. To date, the results are encouraging, and we will continue to seek new approaches in this area until outstanding questions are resolved. However, with increasing numbers of researchers focusing on fibrosis and potential combination therapy, we recognize the need to expand the MF Challenge to other unanswered questions in MPN research. Therefore, in 2014 we are renaming our program The 2014 MPN Challenge, and while we continue to solicit proposals on fibrosis, we are also looking for applications in other critical areas related to all of the MPNs.
THE 2014 MPN CHALLENGE
The goal of the 2014 MPN Challenge is to continue to search for the factor(s) that induce(s) fibrosis in bone marrow, and in addition to identify new avenues of research which will strengthen the overall understanding of the cause(s) and potential treatments for all of the MPNs (ET, PV and MF). We also encourage investigators in other fields whose research may have cross-over appeal to the MNP research community.
Why this Approach is Appropriate Now
Based on the response to MF Challenge RFPs in 2012 and 2013, MPNRF and LLS are encouraged to believe that ‘paradigm-shifting’ strategies can be identified in many areas of cancer and basic biology research which can be brought to bear in the search for MPN treatments. These new strategies, in combination with currently emerging treatments, could truly change the course of these diseases.
Grants to Stimulate New Avenues of Research
MPNRF and LLS believe that the best way to encourage innovative research on MPNs is to encourage new ideas and potentially new researchers. We therefore propose to solicit proposals designed to allow initial exploration of untested but potentially transformative research ideas and approaches. In order to receive such a grant, applicants must describe an innovative idea or approach and a method for testing that idea/approach.
Depending on the response to this RFP (i.e., if multiple proposals of sufficient potential to merit an award are received), we anticipate funding up to 10 awards in calendar year 2014.
Term of Grant
Grants of $100,000 will be made for an initial one-year term. Near the completion of the one-year period, applicants will be evaluated by our peer review process on the extent to which their proposal has been substantiated by initial testing. Projects which pass this review may be eligible for second-year funding up to an additional $100,000.
Focus Areas for 2014 MPN Challenge Grants
In November 2013, the MPN Research Foundation convened a group of scientists from both academia and industry to discuss the unmet needs in MF and MPN research, as a guide for future grant programs. This diverse group of current MPN Challenge grantees, academic scientists and representatives of companies currently involved in MPN treatment development held a lively interchange which resulted in the following list of focus areas for the 2014 MPN Challenge:
Fibrosis and the Bone Marrow Niche
New or continued effort to discover the factor(s) that induce(s) fibrosis of the bone marrow, and to identify opportunities to arrest and reverse this fibrosis. Of particular interest are the interactions between the MPN stem cell and the bonemarrow/microenvironment niche which contributes to fibrosis, extramedullary hematopoiesis, or MPN cell survival. Areas of interest/relevance include but are not limited to the following:
Myelofibrosis caused by abnormal megakaryopoiesis and platelet production, including abnormal growth factor release
Myelofibrosis caused by inflammation; role of cytokines
Myelofibrosis caused by disordered extracellular matrix formation
Myelofibrosis caused by a defective stem cell niche
Other models of fibrotic diseases with potential relevance to myelofibrosis: e.g., pulmonary fibrosis, renal interstitial fibrosis, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), progressive systemic sclerosis
Cancer-initiating cells in myelofibrosis
Anti-fibrotic agents/anti-fibrotic therapy
Biomarkers (genomic, proteomic, or other) which predict the development of myelofibrosis
CALR Mutation. The recent discovery of the Calreticulin gene (CALR) exon 9 mutations in the majority of JAK2-negative patients with chronic MPNs opens new avenues for translational research. In addition to its potential for new druggable targets, basic understanding of the mechanisms and consequences of CALR mutations in MPNs will be needed to develop novel rational therapeutic agents for these disorders. As an ER chaperone, mutant calreticulin might play critical roles in survival and proliferation of MPN stem cells, creating an abnormal microenvironment, aberrant angiogenesis, or abnormal ER stress response in activation of the unfolded protein response that is normally needed for stress-induced autophagy. Studies along these lines may elucidate basic mechanisms of MPNs and their complications, providing new treatment strategies.
Reducing MPN Allele Burden
. In a subset of MPN patients, interferon has shown the ability to reduce the mutant allele burden, be it JAK2 V617F or other disease alleles which mark the disease clone. Recent studies have suggested that other agents might have anti-clonal effects in a subset of patients, which have the potential to indicate disease modifying activity. We solicit proposals that can identify the mechanism(s) of action of agents with possible anti-clonal activity, including interferon, telomerase inhibitors, or other agents which have shown preliminary evidence of molecular response in the clinical setting.
Selective JAK2 inhibition
. Development of a strategy for selectively targeting the mutant JAK2 protein to reduce toxicities associated with inhibiting wild-type JAK2. Additionally, approaches to target pathways downstream of JAK2 are sought.
. Basic research to investigate the potential for control of marrow fibrosis and suppression of aberrant MF clones by immunotherapy or immune manipulation. It is well understood that immunotherapeutic approaches have clinical therapeutic value it at least a subset of MPNs. CML and other MPNs, for example, can be effectively treated with interferon, and in some cases of CML, cures are possible using adoptive T-cell transplantation. We solicit proposals for immunotherapeutic approaches to the broader spectrum of MPNs that could include, but is not limited to:
Assessment of the potential role of chimeric antigen receptor therapy
Therapy targeted to inflammatory cytokines and/or cytokine receptors and their downstream effectors
Exploration of the role of immune checkpoint regulators in MPNs, e.g., CTLA-4, PD-1, PD-L
Understanding of how to combine any of these with evolving standard of care therapies for MPN and in particular, since newly approved agents such as pan-JAK inhibitors have potential to impair immune cell activation and function, how or should they be used with immunomodulatory agents is an important question
Proposals submitted may focus on preclinical or clinical approaches to immunotherapy but proposals that have clear translational potential will be prioritized.
Criteria for Evaluation
Proposals will be evaluated against the following criteria:
Relevance to Primary Objective.
(see description of Focus Areas above)
We favor proposals designed to allow initial exploration of new ideas with the potential to open new avenues of investigation. MPN Challenge grants are generally NOT intended to support the logical progression of an already established research project, though research that, if successful, ultimately leads to breakthroughs in the diagnosis or treatment of patients with MPNs will be reviewed favorably. Preliminary data are not required to support your scientific rationale.
Research Strategy and Feasibility.
Does the scientific rationale logically support the project and its feasibility? Are the aims, experimental design, methods, and analyses well developed and integrated into the project? Does the PI acknowledge potential problems and pitfalls? Is it a reasonable expectation that the studies will yield meaningful results in a one-year period of time?
Proposals that engage interdisciplinary teams and approaches may receive favorable attention, as will proposals made by collaborative teams, either within or across research institutions. Proposal reviewers will also be directed to identify opportunities to repurpose existing resources (e.g., mouse models, other tools) rather than re-invent them; proposals that have already identified such collaborative possibilities will be reviewed favorably.
Commitment to Information Sharing:
MPNRF and LLS believe that sharing data is critical for advancing the science as rapidly as possible. While understanding the confidential nature of the research process, it is our expectation that all data will be made public within a year of being generated. We encourage scientific papers, presentations at ASH or comparable venues, smaller meetings, and website publication.
Call for proposals February 2014
Proposal due date April 1, 2014
Scientific Peer Review Committee May 30, 2014 (final review)
Notification of Awards July 1, 2014
Anticipated funding start date October 1, 2014
Applicants should prepare a grant application following the format described below and email this full proposal to the MPN Research Foundation no later than April 1, 2014. Please title the PDF or Word file as follows: Last Name(space)First Name(space)2014. The proposal should be emailed to the attention of Michelle Woehrle at
2014 MPN CHALLENGE GRANT PROPOSAL
Are we excited about the newest round of research? You bet. Proposals are due at the end of March and awards will be announced in early summer.