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Wistar Researchers Garnered More Than $6.5M in Funding to Support New Discoveries in Cancer & Infectious Disease

PHILADELPHIA--(Feb. 13, 2018)--Scientists at The Wistar Institute, an international biomedical research leader in cancer, immunology and infectious diseases, received research funds totaling $6.58 million between the end of 2017 and the first months of 2018.

$5.61 million in federal funds were awarded to the Institute by the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  • David Weiner, Ph.D., Wistar executive vice president, director of the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, professor in the Immunology, Microenvironment & Metastasis Program, and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research, received a $3.23 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to lead the development of a DNA vaccine to prevent tuberculosis. Building on proven success in DNA vaccine technology, Weiner's team will collaborate with other investigators at Aeras, the Trudeau Institute, Inc., the BPRC in the Netherlands, and Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc., to advance an effective, multivalent DNA vaccine able to target multiple tuberculosis antigens and will also include DNA-encoded adjuvants that enhance the immune response.
  • Dmitry Gabrilovich, M.D., Ph.D., Wistar professor and program leader in the Immunology, Microenvironment & Metastasis Program and the Christopher M. Davis Professor, is a co-principal investigator on a $2.38 million National Cancer Institute grant over five years. The other co-principal investigator on this grant is Serge Fuchs, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. This funding will support research on myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), immune cells that have a potent ability to suppress anti-cancer immunity and limit the efficacy of cancer immune therapy. The team will study the biological and biochemical mechanisms that regulate immune suppressive activity of MDSC, with a particular focus on the role of type 1 interferons, to develop new methods for the therapeutic regulation of these cells.

Wistar scientists also received non-federal funding for $970,000:

  • Dario Altieri, M.D., Wistar president and CEO, director of Cancer Center, and the Robert & Penny Fox Distinguished Professor, received a grant from Gateway for Cancer Research, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding meaningful and breakthrough treatments and cures for patients worldwide. This one-year, $250,000 grant, which can be renewed for a second year for up to $500,000 in total funding, will support the first phase I clinical trial to evaluate the safety of Gamitrinib, a novel anticancer agent developed in the Altieri Lab and specifically directed against a mitochondrial pathway of tumor maintenance to treat advanced, metastatic and drug-resistant malignancies.
  • Rugang Zhang, Ph.D., deputy director of The Wistar Institute Cancer Center and professor & co-program leader of the Gene Expression & Regulation Program, is a co-principal investigator in The Tina Brozman Ovarian Cancer Research Consortium 2.0 funded by The Honorable Tina Brozman Foundation for Ovarian Cancer Research, also known as Tina's Wish. This grant will support each of the four institutions within the Consortium with $225,000 over three years. Zhang is investigating the use of small molecule inhibitors to eradicate cancer stem cells in ovarian cancer as a chemo-preventative approach for high-risk populations. This study will be integrated in a multidisciplinary project that includes advanced genomics and bioengineering approaches for early detection and prevention of ovarian cancer. The Consortium also includes researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University and Memorial Sloan Kettering.
  • Maureen Murphy, Ph.D., professor and program leader of the Molecular & Cellular Oncogenesis Program and Wistar associate vice president for Faculty Affairs, was the recipient of a $200,000 grant from University City Science Center's QED Proof-of-Concept Program, half of which will be contributed by the Science Center and half by Wistar. This funding supports novel university technologies with market potential. Murphy's research will advance HSP70 inhibitors as a new treatment option for therapy-resistant and NRAS mutant melanoma.
  • The W.W. Smith Charitable Trust awarded two individual $110,000 grants to Wistar investigators. Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, will investigate the role of carbohydrate molecules in the immune response and in chronic inflammatory conditions associated with HIV infection. Alessandro Gardini, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Gene Expression & Regulation Program, will study the role of the ARID1A protein in the pathogenesis of ovarian cancer. ARID1A regulates gene expression and is mutated in more than 50% of ovarian clear cell carcinomas, causing aberrant expression of oncogenic genes.
  • Sergey Karakashev, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Zhang Lab, was awarded the Ann and Sol Schreiber Mentored Investigator Award by the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance (OCRFA). This one-year fellowship of $75,000 will support Karakashev's research on the epigenetics of epithelial ovarian cancer and the development of new combination therapies for treating genetically defined ovarian cancers.


The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, Wistar has held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute since 1972. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible.

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