Drs. Erik Knelson, Dwight Owen, and Erin Schenk receive 10th annual LUNGevity Career Development Awards

Awards support exceptional young researchers to augment the lung cancer research pipeline and advance the field
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Linda Wenger
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WASHINGTON, DC (September 16, 2021) — LUNGevity Foundation, the nation’s leading lung cancer-focused nonprofit organization, announced today the recipients of its 2021 Career Development Awards (CDAs) for lung cancer research. This is the 10th year that these prestigious awards have been granted. The awards fund critical lung cancer research projects as well as provide the recipients world-class mentorship by LUNGevity’s distinguished Scientific Advisory Board.

LUNGevity is proud to support the following 2021 Career Development Award projects:

  • Erik Knelson, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — Co-opting small-cell lung cancer plasticity to enhance antitumor immunity. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a highly aggressive type of lung cancer. Currently, an immunotherapy-chemotherapy combination is used as the first treatment for extensive-stage SCLC. The majority of patients do not respond to this treatment combination. Dr. Knelson will study how using a new combination regimen (an immunotherapy with an EZH2-clocking drug) can enhance the role of immunotherapy in SCLC.
  • Dwight Owen, MD, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — Targeting myeloid-derived suppressor cells in lung cancer. Immunotherapy has become a standard treatment regimen for advanced-stage non-small cell lung cancer. However, most patients do not respond. One significant barrier to immunotherapy efficacy is the tumor microenvironment (TME), which contains immunosuppressive cells, including myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). MDSCs represent an important tumor immune escape mechanism and play a role in the development and progression of lung cancer. Dr. Owen will be studying how this group of cells can be targeted to improve the effect of immunotherapy.
  • Erin Schenk, MD, PhD, University of Colorado — Innate immunity as a mechanism of TKI resistance in fusion-driven NSCLC. Fusion-driven non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a group of lung cancers that are driven by specific changes in oncogenes. These lung cancers tend to be addicted to these oncogenes. Such fusion-driven NSCLCs are treated with targeted therapies that block the effect of the oncogenes. However, the cancer inevitably comes back because the tumors become resistant. Traditionally, fusion-driven NSCLCs have not been successfully treated with immunotherapy. Dr. Schenk is testing how these cancers can be treated with immunotherapy through another immune pathway—the innate immunity pathway. 

"We are thrilled to support these accomplished young investigators who are addressing key unmet needs in lung cancer treatment: one working to understand how immunotherapy can be personalized for small cell lung cancer, and two awardees looking at how the innate immune response can be mobilized for improving the efficacy of immunotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer,” notes Charles Rudin, MD, PhD, professor and chief of the Thoracic Oncology Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and chair of LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board. “Our funding of this year’s group of awardees will help make progress in facing these challenges and continue to improve outcomes for lung cancer patients."

Each of these three-year awards is for $100,000 per year, renewable in the second and third years based on research progress. Awardees serve as non-voting members of LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board for the terms of their awards. Awardees are mentored by senior lung cancer experts at their own institutions as well as by experts from the Scientific Advisory Board. They also receive training in effective science communications.

"It’s a pleasure to announce the 2021 class of LUNGevity Career Development Awardees. By funding young investigators, LUNGevity keeps outstanding scientists, still early in their careers, in the lung cancer space," says Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH, Vice President of Research at LUNGevity. "The CDA program encourages their continued development in the field of lung cancer research to grow a strong pipeline of dedicated lung cancer researchers."

Under the stewardship of LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board, a group of 25 prominent scientists and researchers, LUNGevity ensures that grants are awarded to those researchers whose proposals demonstrate the greatest potential for finding lung cancer at its earliest, most treatable phase, as well as for extending and improving lives of lung cancer survivors.

LUNGevity is the only lung cancer organization with a programmatic focus on early detection and a robust Career Development Award Program. Our researchers are working on finding a better way to detect lung cancer, and to better diagnose, treat, and prevent its recurrence. The foundation’s overall research program, including CDA awards, is a crucial factor in moving the science forward to improve outcomes for people living with lung cancer.

LUNGevity’s Scientific Research Program is supported by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Janssen R&D, Genentech, The Thomas G. Labrecque Foundation, the Schmidt Legacy Foundation, and individual donors.

About LUNGevity Foundation

LUNGevity Foundation is the nation’s leading lung cancer organization focused on improving outcomes for people with lung cancer through research, policy initiatives, education, support, and engagement for patients, survivors, and caregivers. LUNGevity seeks to make an immediate impact on quality of life and survivorship for everyone touched by the disease—while promoting health equity by addressing disparities throughout the care continuum. LUNGevity works tirelessly to advance research into early detection and more effective treatments, provide information and educational tools to empower patients and their caregivers, promote impactful public policy initiatives, and amplify the patient voice through research and engagement. The organization provides an active community for patients and survivors—and those who help them live longer and better lives. 

Comprehensive resources include a medically vetted and patient-centric website, a toll-free HELPLine for support, the International Lung Cancer Survivorship Conference, and an easy-to-use Clinical Trial Finder, among other tools. All of these programs are to achieve our vision—a world where no one dies of lung cancer. LUNGevity Foundation is proud to be a four-star Charity Navigator organization.

About Lung Cancer in the US

  • About 1 in 16 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime.
  • More than 235,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year.
  • About 60%-65% of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers.
  • Lung cancer takes more lives than the next three leading cancers (colorectal, breast, and prostate) combined.
  • Only 22% of all people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive 5 years or more, BUT if it’s caught before it spreads, the chance of 5-year survival improves dramatically.