National Award for UF Health Brain Cancer Researcher

A study identifying a possible new intervention to treat the deadliest of brain tumors garnered a national award today for University of Florida Health brain cancer researcher Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., and his research team, who were honored for an outstanding accomplishment in clinical research.

Mitchell and his team won a Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award for 2015 from the Clinical Research Forum, a consortium of top academic health centers, pharmaceutical companies and information technology companies. The group, which holds an annual competition to recognize major advances stemming from the nation’s investment in translational research, announced its winners during the Translational Science 2016 meeting in Washington, D.C.

Mitchell’s submission, published in the journal Nature, is important for identifying a “rather simple and inexpensive intervention” that appears to help a new cancer vaccine for glioblastoma to have enhanced effectiveness, said Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., M.P.H, Ph.D., executive vice president for research and education at UF Health.

Glioblastoma, a very aggressive brain cancer, is highly resistant to standard treatment, with average survival duration of 15 to 18 months, according to Mitchell, co-director of the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy at UF. In a randomized study led by Mitchell and carried out in collaboration with investigators at Duke University, patients who received the enhanced cancer vaccine showed a remarkable improvement in overall survival length.

“The paper shows how the treatment works, with promising results in 12 patients, and demonstrates the mechanism involved using a mouse model,” Pearson said. “It is a very prestigious award. The paper and its results have allowed Dr. Mitchell and colleagues to submit and win a large National Institutes of Health grant to more definitively describe the effectiveness of this treatment by a clinical trial in multiple medical centers.”

These exciting and early clinical results are now the subject of a large and randomized phase II clinical trial, said Mitchell, director of the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program and the Phyllis Kottler Friedman professor in the department of neurosurgery.

“This leaves a clear path open for Dr. Mitchell’s team to expand the numbers of patients and duration of their treatment, as well as extend the methodology to other potentially effective ways of suppressing brain tumor growth and, hopefully, forcing its regression,” said Steven T. DeKosky, M.D., interim executive director of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida, where Mitchell’s lab is based.

Mitchell has served as principal investigator of nine Food and Drug Administration-approved, first-in-human clinical trials aimed at improving patient outcomes by using new methods to spur immune responses targeting malignant brain tumor cells.

Selection criteria for the Clinical Research Forum awards includes: degree of innovation and creativity involved, and advancement of the science in a specific area; contribution to the understanding of human disease and/or human physiology; and potential impact upon the diagnosis, prevention and/or treatment or increased understanding of the disease state.

The award for Mitchell’s team, said DeKosky, “is well-deserved recognition for a large and bold effort” to determine better ways to treat brain tumors.

Mitchell’s establishment of his research and clinical treatment group at UF “opens new opportunities for research and clinical collaborations with other UF researchers, who are united to defeat a deadly form of cancer for which few effective medications have been developed,” DeKosky said.

By Michelle Jaffee