DNA Damage Response Consortium Aims to Rapidly Develop Brain Cancer Therapies

DNA Damage Response Consortium will be a great help to find a cure for brain cancer.

DNA Damage Response (DDR) Consortium will be a great help to find a cure for brain cancer. 

On February 22, in partnership with Yale Cancer Center, the National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS) launched the DNA Damage Response Consortium (DDR), a research initiative that hopes to rapidly develop and assess treatments for patients with brain cancer. 

“The National Brain Tumor Society is the nation’s largest patient advocacy nonprofit dedicated to the brain tumor community,” David Arons, CEO of NBTS, told BioSpace. “We’re trying to conquer brain tumors once and for all.”

The organization doesn’t stop at funding medical research regarding brain tumors. They advocate for policy change that supports healthcare and aids patients and families of those who have been diagnosed with brain tumors. “We guide patients through their entire journey, from navigating their diagnosis to the right places to go to get treatment.”

For Arons, the fight against cancer is personal. “I lost my father to cancer when I was 16 years old. I've wanted to get revenge against cancer ever since then,” he shared. He became an attorney and worked for various nonprofits such as the National Cancer Society before moving into his role at NBTS. “I came here to continue fighting cancer. Many have connections with family, friends, or coworkers who have been touched by brain cancer, including myself. It’s both personal and professional. My role is a great opportunity to wake up and fight cancer, ultimately helping people.”

What will be the Benefits of DNA Damage Response?

The DNA damage response (DDR) Consortium offers a unique research environment where drugs will be quickly studied in labs, moved safely into human trials, then implemented to treat cancer. “One of the ways brain tumors thrive is by repairing their own DNA as a means of growth,” Arons explained. “Over the past 10 to 15 years, we’ve seen a new class of drugs developed to stop cancer from repairing itself as a way of growing.”

The consortium will assess existing poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors that are used to treat ovarian cancer, breast cancer and others, such as AstraZeneca's Olaporib. The enzyme-blocking medications will be deeply assessed to see if their benefits can extend to brain tumor patients.

The DNA damage response (DDR) consortium research will also address novel medications. “As a patient advocacy organization, we hope to bring forward a new class of drugs for patients with brain tumors. This method of combining both existing and novel treatments is an important strategy to make a difference and create more options,” Arons said.

Another facet of NBTS’s advocacy and research efforts involves kids with brain cancer, now the leading cause of death for children with cancer. “We’ve got to make a change here. There are some pediatric brain cancers where kids have less than a school year to live from their diagnosis.”

Arons is also a member of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot℠ Blue Ribbon Panel. Biden organized leaders from the larger cancer community to launch the DNA damage response consortium program as Vice President in 2016, hoping to “end cancer as we know it.” In February, he reignited the program with a goal of reducing cancer’s death rate by a minimum of 50% in the next 25 years.

“Now that President Biden has reignited the program, he wants to go beyond research, improving healthcare and reducing the burden of cancer. He hopes to address diversity issues, barriers to healthcare and barriers to treatment,” Arons said. “Myself and NBTS are pleased to be a part of the solution, working to help President Biden and the First Lady advance this agenda through research and public policy advocacy.”

In a previous quote given to Yale, Arons said that NBTS would be going “all-in.” He shared with BioSpace that “going all-in for NBTS is multi-dimensional.” Firstly, the organization is investing over $1 million in the consortium’s start and aims to spend more in the coming years. Secondly, NBTS will be combining its research efforts with those of the National Cancer Institute to be sure goals are aligned.

Finally, the consortium will offer opportunities to businesses in the biotech industry. “We are a business incubator for biotech companies who are interested in developing brain tumor or DNA damage response drugs. We want them to come and work with us on this consortium,” Arons said. “We can offer value to these companies by evaluating their drugs cheaper and faster than others. We want to create a market that turns the valley of death into a bridge of hope for brain cancer patients.”

Along with Yale, the initiative has already partnered with leading cancer hospitals that are scheduled to join the efforts in the coming weeks and months. “We’re also immediately engaging in conversation with both big pharma and small biotech to find ways we can work together, rapidly evaluating drugs and moving them from the lab to human trials.”

Cutting-edge technology will help further the research efforts. “Our secret sauce is to use imaging and other techniques to determine if these drugs are getting through the blood-brain barrier. If it’s getting through the barrier, is it reaching the molecular target inside the cancer? Will it hit the alteration that’s driving cancer growth? We are using what’s essentially precision medicine and precision targeting to find the right drugs for the right patients at the right time,” Arons shared.

He explained that NBTS serves as a voice for the over 700,000 Americans living with a brain tumor, whether they’re directly involved with the DNA damage response consortium program or not. “We’re putting tens of thousands of the voices that we represent into this program. We hope that having an ecosystem of supporting the patient experience combined with bringing government resources to the program will make a difference.”

The consortium hopes to vastly expand brain tumor treatment options, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for brain cancer patients.

“Brain tumors do not discriminate,” Arons said. “Men, women and children of any age can get them. There is no prevention, and there is no early detection. At NBTS, we have a plan to bring forward a whole new level of defeating brain tumors.”

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