Cancer Researchers Win Funding for Lab-to-Market Ideas

January 31, 2021

A cancer research alliance between Columbia University and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma Oncology (SDP Oncology) will fund translational research by three researchers from the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC). The winning proposals are focused on investigating novel cancer therapeutics that could have a major impact on the landscape of cancer medicine.

The recipients of the Columbia-SDP Oncology Alliance funding are Sankar Ghosh, PhD, chair and professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons; Brent Stockwell, PhD, professor of biological sciences and of chemistry at Columbia University; and Zhiguo Zhang, PhD, professor of epigenomics and molecular biology at the Institute for Cancer Genetics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Formed in the fall of 2019 between Sumitomo and three leading institutions including Columbia, the research alliance has committed to up to $10 million in funding for five years to support lab-to-market projects in oncology. The goal of the alliance is to aid in the rapid translation of cancer research in drug development, from the lab to the clinic. The winning proposals address key problems in cancer therapeutics, including drug-resistance in cancer patients and development of alternative, more effective treatment for lethal diseases like glioblastoma.

Columbia-SDP Oncology Alliance-funded projects:


“A novel approach to cancer immunotherapy”
Sankar Ghosh, PhD

Dr. Ghosh, a member of the HICCC’s Tumor Biology and Microenvironment research program, and his lab identified a novel strategy to enhance the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. Dr. Ghosh’s approach is to target regulatory T cells (Tregs), immune cells responsible for suppressing immune responses. While Tregs are important for protection against autoimmunity, some Tregs inhibit immune response to tumors. Dr. Ghosh’s lab has extensively investigated Treg development and identified a strategy to selectively target Tregs that allow tumors to escape the immune system, without compromising the protective role of Tregs. In this project, his team will leverage those findings to develop novel immunotherapy drugs for cancers that are challenging to treat.


“Targeting drug-resistant cancers”
Brent R. Stockwell, PhD

Dr. Stockwell’s collaboration with SDP Oncology addresses one of the most pressing problems in oncology—drug-resistant cancers. This project expands on previous work by the Stockwell lab demonstrating that as cancers evolve into aggressive and drug-resistant forms, they acquire specific sensitivities. These data provide the possibility that the most difficult to treat cancers can be addressed with new strategies. A member of the Precision Oncology and Systems Biology research program at the HICCC, Dr. Stockwell plans to build on this discovery to investigate drug-like inhibitors for use in drug-resistant, difficult-to-treat cancers.



“Therapeutic strategies to treat glioblastoma”
Zhiguo Zhang, PhD

Cancer Genomics and Epigenomics research program at the HICCC, will be developing therapeutics to treat glioblastoma (GBM). GBM is the most common and aggressive primary brain tumor, and many patients develop resistance to current treatments. One of the challenges in treating GBM is that different subgroups of GBM tumors are driven by distinct mutations, making it difficult to target all tumors with a single treatment approach. Dr. Zhang aims to identify novel drug targets and therapeutic agents to target GBM tumors with specific mutations. This approach holds promise for developing more precise and efficacious treatments for subgroups of GBM patients.