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Fox Chase Cancer Center Receives Competitive SPORE Grant for Head and Neck Cancer Research Collaboration

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Erica Golemis, PhD, deputy chief science officer and co-leader of the Molecular Therapeutics Program at Fox Chase.

Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center were recently awarded a grant through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to fund a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) for Head and Neck Cancer.

“SPORE grants are among the most prestigious of awards bestowed by the NCI and fund critical translational research by teams of basic scientists and clinical researchers,” said Richard I. Fisher, MD, president and CEO of Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Under the exceptional leadership of Dr. Erica Golemis, we at Fox Chase are honored to collaborate with the other centers to bring about important treatment advances for patients with head and neck cancers.”

Head and neck cancers are a group of cancers that start in the lining of the oral cavity, throat, voice box, or vocal cords. These squamous cell carcinomas account for approximately 4% of all cancers in the United States and can be complex to treat, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Over 65,000 people are estimated to be diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year, and over 14,000 deaths from head and neck cancer are estimated this year.

The five-year, $11.7 million grant funds a SPORE collaboration among Fox Chase Cancer Center, Yale Cancer Center, and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center to address obstacles in treating head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to focus sustained effort on improving treatment for this devastating disease,” said Erica Golemis, PhD, deputy chief science officer and co-leader of the Molecular Therapeutics Program at Fox Chase.

“My collaborative project with Dr. Burtness of Yale aims to develop therapy for patients that have resistance to normal forms of treatment for advanced head and neck cancer. As a SPORE project, it’s designed fundamentally to connect insights in the labs directly to clinical trials taking place at Yale, Fox Chase, and Lineberger,” she added.

The NCI established SPOREs to promote interdisciplinary research and to help basic research findings move quickly from the laboratory to the patient. The grants are highly competitive. In order to earn one, institutions must demonstrate a high degree of collaboration between first-rate scientists and clinicians, and show excellence in translational research projects.

“Having the funding for this is exciting. I think it’s great to have a cadre of people who are interested and qualified to be working in head and neck cancer because it is one of the cancers that is understudied and underfunded,” said Barbara Burtness, MD, principal investigator and professor of medicine (medical oncology) at Yale Cancer Center.

Before moving to Yale, Burtness held many roles at Fox Chase, including chief of head and neck oncology. “This award will make a huge difference in exploring advanced treatments for this disease,” she said.