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VAI Voice

The Official Blog of Van Andel Institute
9 May 2018

Fighting cancer is a team effort

By Dr. Peter A. Jones and Dr. Steve Baylin
Co-leaders, Van Andel Research Institute–Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team

Four years ago, we embarked on a collaborative endeavor to improve cancer treatment by establishing the Van Andel Research Institute–Stand Up To Cancer (VARI–SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team, a multi-institutional effort to identify new, more effective cancer therapies and test them in the clinic, ultimately improving patient care.

Since then, we’ve been hard at work, launching clinical trials at sites across the U.S. and abroad to investigate innovative new treatments for lung cancer, bladder cancer, colorectal cancer and two blood cancers called acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. We are hopeful that these efforts will help move the needle on cancer treatment and give patients better options that improve their lives and wellbeing.

Today, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of a new trial, which explores a novel combination of the immunotherapy medication durvalumab and the epigenetic medication guadecitabine for the treatment of liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancer and gallbladder cancer. Currently, few treatment options exist for these notoriously aggressive malignancies, a problem that contributes to their overall poor prognosis.

This combination of medications attacks cancer on two fronts: First, by thwarting its ability to hide from the body’s natural defenses and, second, by enhancing the immune system’s ability to seek and destroy tumor cells. The result, we believe, will be a one-two punch against these tough-to-treat diseases.

The trial is currently open at University of Southern California under the leadership of Dr. Anthony El-Khoueiry and is anticipated to open soon at The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins under the leadership of Dr. Nilofer Azad and at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian under the leadership of Dr. Diana Hanna. Information on eligibility may be found at clinicaltrials.gov.

As the number of trials we support grows, so too does the team itself. We are extremely pleased to welcome two new members — Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, represented by principal investigator Prof. Susan Clark, Division Head of Genomics and Epigenetics, and Indiana University (IU) represented by principal investigator Dr. Kenneth Nephew, Professor of Cellular and Integrative Physiology at IU School of Medicine.

Both are leaders in their fields — Dr. Clark in exploring the role of epigenetics in development and cancer, and in pioneering many revolutionary technologies used today in labs across the globe; and Dr. Nephew in studying epigenetics in ovarian and breast cancers, and in developing strategies to overcome drug resistance.

They will be joined by investigators Dr. Kathy Miller, the Ballve Lanterno Professor of Oncology at IU School of Medicine and Associate Director of Clinical Research at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, and Dr. Anthony Joshua, Director of Oncology at Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Kinghorn Cancer Center.

All of these new developments are anchored by our common, unifying mission — to improve cancer treatment and give patients more healthy years. By working together and harnessing the resources, talent and expertise of leading scientists, physicians and organizations, we have high hopes that we can make that goal a reality.

Learn more about the team, our clinical trials and our members here.

Remembering Pat Gavin


As we celebrate and reflect on our progress, we do so in honor of Pat Gavin, an integral member of the VARI–SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team who passed away in late 2017. A three-time cancer survivor and dedicated advocate, Pat ensured that the patient voice was included and considered every step of the way, from brainstorming to clinical trial design. His incredible insight, kind heart and strong commitment to improving cancer care has had a lasting impact on the team’s efforts and on each one of us.

News from the VARI–SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team

Clinical trial investigates possible triple threat for lung cancer
30 Nov. 2017

Stand Up To Cancer awards $5.5 million to VARI for cancer clinical trials to enhance immunotherapy
12 Oct. 2017

A Catalyst for combating cancer
12 Oct. 2017

VARI–SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team launches new clinical trial to combat blood cancers
13 June 2017

Read more news about the team here.