A unique collaboration created in 2010 to accelerate the translation of biomedical research into new drugs and therapies.
Pathologist Harold Dvorak, MD, has probably peered at tens of thousands of specimens in his career, but he can still picture the telltale brown specks that revealed a fundamental new aspect of cancer biology and led to a new way to treat tumors by targeting their blood supply. The clumps of big fibrinogen protein had blatantly exited the blood vessels that had carried them there, and Dvorak and his colleagues soon discovered the reason: tumors secrete a factor that make blood vessels leak. This groundbreaking discovery– the identification and characterization of vascular permeability factor (VPF) -- would lay the groundwork for the field of tumor angiogenesis and usher in an entirely new approach to the development of cancer therapeutics. Dvorak famously observed that tumors are like "wounds that do not heal" and proposed that by secreting VPF, tumors turn on this wound healing response, thereby stimulating angiogenesis. Other scientists also pushed forward the rapidly advancing field, most notably Dvorak's late Harvard colleague Judah Folkman, MD. Soon, "inducing angiogenesis" was counted as one of the six basic hallmarks of cancer. The advent of cloning allowed scientists at Genentech, as well as others, to clone VPF, renaming it VEGF -- vascular endothelial growth factor. Antibodies to VEGF were found to block tumor angiogenesis and a dozen years after Dvorak’s initial discovery, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first therapeutic agent, bevacizumab or Avastin. Today more than 1 million patients have been treated with Avastin -- for metastatic cancers of the colon, rectum and kidney. ]Fast-forward to 2011. Thirty years after his original discovery, Dvorak has embarked on the investigation of an exciting new model of cancer angiogenesis. “Avastin is regarded as useful and beneficial, but it’s not the wonder drug one had hoped for,” he says. In collaboration with a group of drug-discovery scientists at Pfizer’s Center for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI), Dvorak is on the hunt for new and improved anti-angiogenic therapeutics. The Dvorak investigation is the flagship project of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI), a unique collaboration between Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and a group of Massachusetts-based academic medical centers (AMCs), created in 2010 to accelerate the translation of biomedical research into new drugs and therapies. BIDMC was the first of the state’s AMCs to join the CTI, and Dvorak’s project soon became the first to launch in collaboration with scientists at CTI’s headquarters, located in the Center for Life Science Building.