January 2018

ROI contributes $200,000 in research grants to improve access to radiation therapy

By Gita Suneja, MD, MSHP

The Radiation Oncology Institute (ROI) is pleased to offer new grant opportunities to investigators who are studying how to expand access to radiation therapy. As the only nonprofit foundation dedicated to funding research to improve outcomes for cancer patients being treated with radiation therapy, the ROI is focused on leveraging its resources to make the most impactful grants to our field’s best and brightest investigators. The ROI is committed to finding solutions to the challenges that all of us face in our practices and, since the foundation’s earliest days, has collected ideas and opinions from radiation oncology professionals about the most important research topics that could benefit from additional funding resources.  
The National Radiation Oncology Research Needs Assessmentwhich involved hundreds of ASTRO members and leaders and was published by the ROI in 2012, helped launch the Institute’s successful research program and still serves as the basis for the ROI’s research agenda. Given the rapidly changing health care landscape, the ROI decided to once again seek feedback from the radiation oncology community by inviting attendees of the 2017 ASTRO Annual Meeting to answer the question: “How do we improve our ability to get radiation to the patients who need it?” 
The Annual Meeting ROI Question was a resounding success with many valuable ideas shared about the barriers preventing patients from accessing radiation therapy. Thank you to everyone who communicated their ideas with the ROI. The ROI has taken this important feedback and developed the Innovative Projects in Radiation Oncology request for proposals (RFP) for research projects that will address the topics identified by respondents as the areas of greatest need. They are:
  • Financial toxicity and cost – investigations of the financial toxicity associated with radiation therapy and the development of interventions to mitigate its effects and lower costs.
  • Access to treatment and support services – studies to understand disparities in access to radiation therapy and the development of solutions to address them.
  • Awareness, education and marketing – novel methods to inform patients and referring physicians about the benefits of radiation therapy.
  • Hypofractionation and SBRT – generation of evidence or development of programs that support their use.
Through this RFP, the ROI is seeking proposals for high-risk, high-reward projects and/or seed funding necessary to demonstrate proof of concept before applying for larger grants. Up to $200,000 in grants will be awarded in late spring 2018. A typical budget for a project is expected to be limited to $50,000. However, larger budgets will be considered up to a maximum of $100,000. Special attention will be given to projects that demonstrate efficiency and economy of resources to pursue the research proposed, with the goal of making awards to as many of the highest rated proposals as possible.

All applications must be submitted through ROI’s portal on proposalCENTRAL. The deadline to submit proposals is Thursday, March 1, by 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. For more information about the Innovative Projects in Radiation Oncology RFP, visit the ROI’s website.
The ROI is looking forward to seeing many inventive ideas for groundbreaking research in radiation oncology to address the pressing needs identified by members of our field. This is an opportunity to pursue research that may not be fundable by more traditional mechanisms. The ROI is investing in research to build a better future for radiation oncology, and you can be a part of it by submitting your innovative project proposal today.
In the comments, let us know what you think of these four proposal topics. What questions do you have about improving accessibility to radiation therapy?

Posted: January 30, 2018 | 0 comments

Astro teams up with FDA and AACR to address lack of drug development with radiation at upcoming workshop

By Amanda Walker, MD

The field of medical oncology is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Cancers that were once considered death sentences, such as multiple myeloma and metastatic melanoma, are turning into chronic diseases due to the use of novel targeted systemic therapies. Immunotherapy, heralded as a “game changer” in oncology, is altering the natural history of certain malignancies, checkpoint inhibitors are making their way into front-line management and CAR-T cell therapy has demonstrated durable responses in patients with refractory hematologic malignancies.  
The field of radiation oncology is also undergoing a remarkable transformation. Improved radiation delivery techniques allow radiation oncologists to more precisely target the tumor and spare normal tissue. Treatment times are shortening due to the delivery of higher doses per fraction, and radiation fields are shrinking. A number of clinical trials are investigating the role of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) in patients with oligometastatic disease, and novel image guidance techniques allow adaptive radiation treatment planning in real time, providing yet another tool to optimize the therapeutic index of radiation therapy. 
While both medical oncology and radiation oncology have made great strides independently of one another, very little has changed in terms of the systemic therapies that we use in combination with radiation. Over the past 10 years, the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved more than 200 new drug and biologic licensing applications, but none of these approvals were for use in combination with radiation therapy. The reasons for this discrepancy are complex and multifactorial, including limited regulatory precedent and perceived challenges in trial design and data collection with radiation.
Recent studies have shown that radiation therapy can work synergistically with immunotherapy agents to induce potent antitumor immune responses. A number of mechanisms have been postulated including increased expression of negative immune regulators, increased antigen presentation and other modifications of the adaptive immune response with radiation. Other targeted molecular therapeutics, such as inhibitors of DNA repair enzymes and growth factors, have a strong preclinical rationale for use in combination with radiation therapy based on their mechanism of action, yet very few agents have successfully moved from the lab into clinic.
Given the enormous potential for drug-radiotherapy combinations to improve meaningful clinical outcomes, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), ASTRO and the FDA are co-sponsoring the Clinical Development of Drug-Radiotherapy Combinations Workshop to address the lack of development in this area. The workshop takes place on February 22–23 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bethesda, Maryland, and will bring together key stakeholders from around the world, including industry, regulatory agencies, patient advocates and academic oncologists. The goal is to engage in robust discussions with a focus on the most practical aspects of drug development.
Radiation will remain a fundamental pillar of cancer treatment for the foreseeable future, but until every cancer patient treated with radiation therapy is cured, there is still work to do. We are reaching the limits of our siloed approach to advancing the field. Now is the time to break down the silos and join forces with our colleagues to improve the lives of our patients. Join us at the workshop next month so we can start this important work.

What questions do you have about developing effective drug-radiation therapies? Tell us in the comments.
Amanda Walker, MD, is associate director (acting), Oncology Center of Excellence and medical officer, Division of Oncology Products 1, Office of Hematology and Oncology (OHOP), Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the FDA.
Posted: January 23, 2018 | 0 comments

ASTRO offers new grant opportunities in collaboration iwth BCRF, PCF and AAPM

By Tyler Beck, PhD, ASTRO Scientific Program Officer

For many years, ASTRO has been a reliable source of funding for radiation oncology researchers in their early years of research independence, offering both smaller Seed Grants and larger Junior Faculty Awards to our early-career investigators. This year, ASTRO actively sought ways to stretch its research dollars to give more opportunities to investigators in radiation oncology and radiation-related research, and to that end established new collaborations with organizations with influence in the cancer research space.

This year, in place of the Junior Faculty Award, ASTRO is now offering two new career development awards, thanks to new partnerships with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) and the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF). The ASTRO-BCRF Career Development Award to End Breast Cancer will award one early-career investigator $100,000 per year for two years, to be used for research relevant to the understanding or treatment of breast cancer involving radiation oncology. The ASTRO-PCF Career Development Award to End Prostate Cancer will similarly award one early-career investigator $75,000 per year for three years, to be used for research related to prostate cancer and radiation oncology.

“At ASTRO, one of our core values is to seek improved outcomes for cancer patients. By teaming up with organizations such as the BCRF and the PCF, we will be able to increase our support for researchers who aim to do just that,” says Laura I. Thevenot, ASTRO chief executive officer.

ASTRO is also working with the American Association of Physics in Medicine (AAPM) to create a new funding opportunity for trainees in physics. In addition to the Resident Seed grants ASTRO has traditionally awarded, the ASTRO-AAPM Physics Resident/Post-Doctoral Fellow Seed Grant (or Physics Seed, for short) will be available to physics residents and post-doctoral fellows working on research related to radiation physics and other radiation oncology topics. The recipient will receive $25,000 for a one-year research period.

“As advances are made in radiation oncology technology and medical imaging, there is a greater need for research in these rapidly changing areas,” says Bruce Thomadsen, President of AAPM. “Since AAPM and ASTRO share the goal of improving patient safety and overall outcomes with radiation therapy treatment, this new partnership should be a fruitful collaboration to help groom the next generation of medical physicists and radiation oncologists.”

Applications for all three of these new grant opportunities, in addition to the Residents/Fellows in Radiation Oncology Research Seed Grant, opened on January 15, and all applications must be received by April 8 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time. All applications must be submitted through ProposalCentral. For more information on any of these grants, please contact ASTRO’s Scientific Affairs.
Posted: January 16, 2018 | 0 comments