LOS ANGELES – October 12, 2012 – Stand Up To Cancer’s inaugural Laura Ziskin Prize in Translational Cancer Research was awarded tonight to two scientists who are developing ways to attack the elusive form of breast cancer that caused the death of the famed film producer. The prize was created with $1.1 million designated for this purpose in Ziskin’s will.
A one-year grant of $250,000 will be shared by two scientists at different institutions to collaborate on high-risk, high-reward research, focused on getting new treatments to patients quickly. The recipients of the 2012 prize are Feyruz V. Rassool, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, and Stephen Baylin, M.D., deputy director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, also in Baltimore.
“My mother poured her heart and soul into Stand Up To Cancer over the last few years of her life, searching for a cure for herself and others, and I know she would be thrilled that this last gift she left to SU2C is being used to fund such exciting and promising research on the complex and specific cancer she fought,” said her daughter Julia Barry. “Our whole family is deeply grateful for the outpouring of love and support we see here tonight and for everyone who contributed to making this prize another piece of her lasting legacy.”
“Not only is this Prize a fitting tribute to a person who inspired us all with her courage and fortitude in the face of cancer, the work it is supporting represents exactly the kind of high quality, innovative and rapidly translatable research in which Laura deeply believed. And, most importantly, it is work aimed at helping patients in the very near future,” said John Glaspy, M.D., a professor and researcher at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center who treated Ziskin and serves on SU2C’s Executive Management Committee. “I believe this is exactly what Laura would have wanted.”
Ziskin died of metastatic breast cancer that was estrogen receptor-positive (“ER+”) and had the luminal A gene expression profile usually associated with a response to estrogen-targeted therapies. It also had a texture that allowed it to escape detection until it had spread widely. She nevertheless lived for seven years before the disease, which had become independent of estrogen, took her life in June 2011.
She was one of the co-founders of Stand Up To Cancer, the initiative founded in 2008 by nine women from the entertainment industry to accelerate ground-breaking research and bring new treatments to patients as quickly as possible. To date, more than $260 million has been pledged to SU2C for collaborative research programs. Grants have been made to eight “Dream Teams” of scientists from different disciplines and institutions, as well as to young individual investigators whose work is unlikely to be supported by traditional sources.
Ziskin cherished SU2C’s emphasis on “translational” research, or work that quickly moves the benefits of new scientific developments to the patient level, her daughter said.
“Laura really believed that, if we have the collective will, we are capable as a society of ending cancer’s reign as a leading cause of death,” SU2C Co-Founder Rusty Robertson said. “She wanted everyone diagnosed with cancer to triumph over it as a long-term survivor, and all of us at Stand Up To Cancer will not rest until we achieve that goal.”
Prize Announced at Book Party for Susan B. Landau’s Laura Ziskin: Collective Memories and Photographs
The inaugural Prize recipients were announced at the Paley Center for Media at an event celebrating the release of the book Laura Ziskin: Collective Memories and Photographs, by Susan B. Landau. The author/ photographer was best friends with Laura for 35 years. All proceeds from its sale go to SU2C. The book, which retails for $100, can be purchased through the standup2cancer.org website.
Ms. Landau, who produces films and represents screenwriters and directors as head of Thompson Street Entertainment, has worked in the film business since 1974 and produced movies such as “Cool Runnings,” “Princess of Thieves,” and “An Ideal Husband.” An avid photographer as a teenager, Landau began working in still photography again in 2007 and has done significant ‘behind-the-scenes’ reportage, including the 2010 and 2012 Stand Up To Cancer telecasts, as well as the 2007 to 2011 Oscars.
At the time of Ziskin’s death, many of the scientists involved with Stand Up To Cancer wrote letters to her family, talking about the impact she had on cancer research. Excerpts from many of those letters are included in the book.
“I was searching for a way to both honor Laura and support Stand Up To Cancer, and hoped I could do both with a book of photographs. But the project really came together as the ‘collective memories’ began to paint a portrait of this extraordinary woman,” Ms. Landau said.
Grant Facilitates Collaboration on Therapies to Reverse Treatment ResistanceThe 2012 Ziskin Award will facilitate a collaboration aimed at developing new therapies that can enhance the effectiveness of existing therapies.
Dr. Rassool’s work focuses on blocking abnormalities in DNA repair pathways. These abnormalities are partly dependent on PARP, and allow survival of the cancer cells. Dr. Baylin is studying the epigenetic mechanisms that cancer cells use to modify the function of normal genes and pathways in a way that contributes to the abnormal growth that occurs in cancer. Dr Rassool has shown that epigenetic drugs may enhance the effects of blocking PARP. Thus, PARP inhibitors that are already widely used to treat breast cancer will have a better chance to work in these cases. Drs. Baylin and Rassool are also husband and wife and are initiating this scientific endeavor with the goal of improving the management of breast cancer.
“Laura was an incredible inspiration to every scientist who was lucky enough to cross paths with her,” said Dr. Baylin, who is the leader of the SU2C-funded Epigenetics Dream Team. “We are profoundly grateful to share this award in Laura’s name, and honored to work toward improving how we treat the disease that took her life.”
“Piecing together the puzzle behind how epigenetic therapy may enhance the effects of PARP inhibitors in breast cancer will give so many women a better chance at surviving it,” added Dr. Rassool. “This funding opportunity brings together our collective expertise in a synergistic way. It’s particularly meaningful to receive this grant in October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
The recipients were chosen by an advisory group consisting of Glaspy; Alan Ashworth, Ph.D., Institute of Cancer Research, Royal Marsden, UK; Fumi Olapade, M.D., of the University of Chicago; and Dennis Slamon, M.D., Ph.D., of the UCLA School of Medicine, all of whom specialize in breast cancer research and/or treatment.
About Stand Up To Cancer
Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) — a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), a 501(c)3 charitable organization — raises funds to hasten the pace of groundbreaking translational research that can get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives. In the fall of 2007, a group of women whose lives have all been affected by cancer in profound ways began working together to marshal the resources of the media and entertainment industries in the fight against this disease.
Members of the SU2C Executive Leadership Council (ELC) include Talk Show Host, Journalist and well-known Cancer Advocate Katie Couric; Sherry Lansing, Chairperson of the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Board of Directors and founder of the Sherry Lansing Foundation; EIF President and CEO Lisa Paulsen; EIF Senior Vice President Kathleen Lobb; Rusty Robertson and Sue Schwartz of the Robertson Schwartz Agency; Pamela Oas Williams, President of Laura Ziskin Productions and Executive Producer of Stand Up To Cancer’s In-House Production Team, and Nonprofit Executive Ellen Ziffren. All of the ELC members were co-producers of the 2012 televised special. The late Laura Ziskin, executive producer of both the Sept. 5, 2008 and Sept. 10, 2010 broadcasts, was also a member of the ELC. SU2C was formally launched on May 27, 2008. Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., has served as SU2C’s president and CEO since 2011.
The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is Stand Up To Cancer’s scientific partner, working in conjunction with the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, led by Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., institute professor at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. AACR, which consists of 34,000 scientists engaged in the fight against cancer, is the oldest and largest scientific organization in the world focusing on every aspect of high-quality, innovative cancer research from the bench to the bedside.