The Small Cell Lung Cancer Project is a $1 million dollar team science initiative the University of Chicago focused on mobilizing teams of internationally recognized cancer specialists to generate an all-out attack on small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and drive forward advances in cancer care overall. The CRF grant will bring together leaders in cancer research and care, clinical trials, immunology, drug development, nanotechnology, computation, genomics and pathology.

The focus on small cell lung cancer is the result of a number of opportunities and situations coming together in a complementary way. SCLC is one of a difficult group of stubborn, intractable cancers that have been left behind, as the standard of cancer care has advanced and researchers have made great strides in cancer medicine. It is a particularly virulent and fast moving cancer characterized by aggressive metastasis and a dire prognosis. There has been almost no improvement or change to the standard of care for SCLC in the last 30 years.  This three-year initiative, anchored at the University of Chicago, will encompass five collaborative projects aimed at targeted, game-changing treatments for SCLC, as well as initiating trials on new treatment protocols and investigating novel cancer mechanisms and indicators.

Much of effective cancer research in the past has resulted from the analysis of tumors removed from cancer sufferers through surgery or pre-surgical biopsies. Sadly, SCLC is asymptomatic in its early stages and then quickly spreads beyond its initial site. This deadly combination effectively eliminates surgery as a therapeutic response for SCLC. An unfortunate side-effect from the non-use of surgery is that cancer researchers have had very few lines of SCLC tumor cells with which to conduct their research. Newly discovered techniques using bronchoscopes now enable physicians to harvest SCLC tumor cells with minimal inconvenience, pain or danger to the patient. Access to these cells will enable personalized treatments for the individual patient in the future and will provide critically needed material for the research activities included in the SCLC project.  Senior researchers specializing in diverse fields such as immunology, nanotechnology and protein analysis will bring their own expertise to bear on SCLC and will look for new ways to block and respond to SCLC progression. An already established clinical trial infrastructure at UChicago will speed discoveries and new data directly to patients.

This undertaking will be among the first research efforts to benefit from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Genomic Data Commons, a first-of-its-kind cloud-based computational system under development at UChicago.  The NCI Genomic Data Commons is consolidating cancer genetic data from sequencing studies nationwide into a single, searchable repository to speed up discovery and produce quicker breakthroughs for patients.

Our hope is that the Cancer Research Foundation will make a real difference in the treatment and survival of this terrible and deadly form of cancer.  But, we are also optimistic that this project will be important to more than just those clinicians and patients dealing with SCLC.  We anticipate that SCLC will be useful as a “stand-in” for other small cell and recalcitrant cancers and that the project will yield information and new therapies that can be applied broadly to other types of cancer.

This project, combining a number of different but complementary scientific initiatives, exemplifies the CRF’s strategic approach to philanthropy in cancer research: moving quickly to back smart scientists with novel ideas that have the potential to deliver outsize impact in saving lives.  Our strategy is focused on funding both researchers and science at a point when funding can be hard to come by and yet relatively small amounts have the potential to move cancer knowledge forward.