Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
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Does an Old Drug Hold New Answers for People with MPN?

The MPN Research Foundation (MPNRF), a patient-led organization representing over 300,000 MPN patients in the U.S. alone, announced an innovative approach to finding a new use for a drug that has the potential to cure both blood and solid tumor cancers.

The MPNRF Interferon (IFN) Initiative is a multi-center project which will bring together internationally recognized experts in both blood and solid tumors to determine how cytokine-driven pathways affect the trajectory of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), a closely-related group of progressive blood cancers. Specifically, the project is aimed at defining:

  • How and why targeting the IFN pathway reduces the burden of mutated stem cells in MPN patients.
  • Why targeting this pathway is effective for some MPN patients but not others.
  • Why the positive effects of targeting this pathway are not permanent.

Interferon (IFN) is a drug that has proven to be effective in other diseases (e.g., hepatitis C), but has largely been replaced by a new generation drugs for those diseases. However, it remains the single treatment that provides disease-altering effects for MPN patients, and understanding its mechanism of action for MPNs can lead to better interferon compounds and potentially other drugs in the IFN pathway that can change the prognosis for MPN and other cancer patients.

Barbara Van Husen, President of MPNRF, says, “We have long felt that a study of Interferon would be a unique opportunity to open new avenues of treatment for MPN patients. We held an Interferon Brainstorming Session in 2016 at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, and became convinced we should spearhead this effort.”

“Working together and sharing knowledge is key,” says Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, director of the Lurie Cancer Center, the Jesse, Sara, Andrew, Abigail, Benjamin and Elizabeth Lurie Professor of Oncology and lead investigator of the multi-center effort. “As our understanding of complex cytokine pathways and signaling networks continues to evolve, we expect to maximize the impact of these discoveries by developing new therapies for patients with MPN.” The MPNRF IFN Initiative will bring world experts in Interferon, MPNs, and solid tumors together to bring both broad and deep understanding to this issue. The initial team of investigators includes:

  • Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD: Lurie Cancer Center
  • Ann Mullally, MD: Division of Hematology, Brigham and Woman’s Hospital
  • Jean-Luc Villeval, PhD: INSERM/Institut Gustave Roussy, Paris
  • Joseph Scandura, MD, PhD: Weill Cornell School of Medicine

The project will be guided by an Advisory Group of recognized experts in Interferon and MPNs that will meet with investigators to ensure that the collaboration is optimal and productive. Members of the Advisory Group include: Andrew Schafer, MD (chair); John Crispino, PhD; Robert Cohen, MD; Ronald Hoffman, MD; Richard Silver, MD; Jean-Jacques Kiladjian, MD, PhD; William Vainchenker, MD, PhD; Radek Skoda, MD and Hans Hasselbalch, MD.

It is MPNRF’s hope and determination that this project will bring discoveries to light for MPN patients, and will provide an essential weapon in the arsenal of treatments available to them and to patients with other cancers. This initiative will be funded by MPN patients and supporters, and by generous unrestricted contributions from PharmaEssentia and Incyte.