RETpositive and LUNGevity Foundation Partner on Innovative Lung Cancer Research Award

RET-positive lung cancer community funds research into critical areas of need
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Linda Wenger
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WASHINGTON, DC (February 14, 2022) — Patient group RETpositive and LUNGevity Foundation today announced the 2022 recipients of the first RETpositive/LUNGevity Translational Research Award for RET-Positive Lung Cancer. RET is a driver mutation found in approximately 1%-2% of people with non-small cell lung cancer. The goal of these awards is to transform the future for those diagnosed with RET-positive lung cancer by changing RET-positive lung cancer into a chronic or curable condition.

These awards total $100,000 each for a two-year term. Funds were raised by RETpositive, a patient-driven nonprofit that aims to improve the quality of life and life expectancy of RET-positive cancer patients.

The 2022 award has been presented to:

• Alexandre Reuben, PhD, Assistant Professor, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer

T-cell receptor engineering for the treatment of RET fusion-positive NSCLC

Despite advances in the development of RET inhibitors, patients with RET fusions eventually have disease progression. Immunotherapy has been inefficient in patients harboring RET fusions. However, RET fusion proteins themselves may be immunogenic and give rise to an immune response. Dr. Reuben hypothesizes that RET fusions give rise to immunogenic antigens that can be effectively recognized and targeted by engineered T-cells. This project will identify which antigens can elicit an immune response. This information will be used to engineer customized T-cells to gain the ability to recognize those cancer cells that produce these RET fusion proteins. The ultimate goal is to offer new therapeutic alternatives by expanding the possibility of immunotherapy treatment in the overwhelming majority of NSCLC patients harboring RET fusions.

• Hideo Watanabe, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Targeting lineage plasticity to suppress DTP in RET-positive lung cancer

Despite an initial response to the newly approved RET inhibiting drugs, most RET-positive lung cancers become resistant to these drugs, and the cancers relapse. Dr. Watanabe’s project will provide anti-relapse therapeutic strategies for RET-positive lung cancer that target newly identified “drug-tolerant persisters” (DTPs). DTPs are a small population of cancer cells that do not respond to these drugs and therefore start growing, leading to the relapse of these cancers. The role of DTPs in RET-positive lung cancer is not well understood. Dr. Watanabe proposes therapeutic strategies, such as targeting the Wnt and Hippo signaling pathway to overcome the DTP adaptability and prevent relapse before these cells arise.

“We are delighted to partner with LUNGevity Foundation and fund these innovative high-risk, high-reward projects. Through these projects, we hope to uncover new treatment approaches for RET-positive lung cancer,” noted Nicolas Le-Bel, co-founder of RETpositive.

The RETpositive/LUNGevity partnership was founded by Nicolas and the late Dr. Aliye Bricker in 2021. “These awards are a true testament to Aliye’s leadership and vision. We lost her to this terrible disease last week. This is a stark reminder of why we need more therapies for RET-positive NSCLC. These projects are part of Aliye's enduring legacy to improve outcomes for RET-driven cancer,” said Dr. Hilary Hammell, another member of the RETpositive team who was involved in the selection of the grants.

“It is an absolute honor to fund these two amazing researchers in partnership with RETpositive. These projects were selected after a rigorous review process that involved members of the RETpositive community and international leaders in RET research. The ultimate decision was made by the RETpositive team,” noted Upal Basu Roy, PhD, MPH, executive director of research at LUNGevity Foundation. “It’s really impactful to see patients and caregivers driving the research agenda and funding projects that are the most meaningful to the RET community.”

These two new grants will lay the foundation for exploring new avenues to target RET-positive lung cancer.

About RETpositive

RETpositive is a 501(c)(3) patient-driven group that aims to improve the quality of life and life expectancy of RET-positive cancer patients through increased awareness, emotional support, advocacy, and medical research funding for RET-driven cancer. For more information about RETpositive, please visit

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 the 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.

Our vision is a world where no one dies of lung cancer. For more information about LUNGevity Foundation, please visit