November 7, 2011

Johns Hopkins University researcher wins prize for breast cancer biomarker studies

$50,000 award recognizes potential for rapid clinical use and commercialization

A Johns Hopkins breast cancer re–searcher is the recipient of a $50,000 award designed to encourage rapid translation of her basic research on biomarkers into a commercially available test that could predict the best treatment options for some women with breast cancer.

Sara Sukumar, co-director of the Breast Cancer Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, won one of two BioMaryland LIFE Prizes at the Oct. 25 joint meeting of the Johns Hopkins University Alliance for Science and Technology Development and the University of Maryland Baltimore Commercial Advisory Board.

More than two dozen Johns Hopkins and UMB researchers presented to a group of business leaders, colleagues and venture capitalists research advances that they believe are likely to become successful products or businesses. A panel of judges selected a winner from each school to receive a $50,000 prize, funded by the Maryland Biotechnology Center and the two universities.

James Gammie, a UMB researcher and associate professor of cardiac surgery, received the prize for designing a device to repair mitral valve regurgitation, a heart valve defect common in adults. His invention, he reports, offers a minimally invasive alternative to open heart surgery.

Sukumar, who is also a professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the methylated gene biomarkers her team discovered may better predict how patients whose breast cancers are estrogen receptor–negative will respond to various treatments. With further refinement, the biomarkers could show if patients are responding to therapy and if they’re at risk for future recurrences.

Sukumar says she hopes that her biomarker-based test will someday help the nearly 25,000 women diagnosed with estrogen receptor–negative breast cancer each year and who unnecessarily undergo chemotherapy. “The goal is to identify patients who won’t benefit from chemotherapy so they can try out new modalities as a first-line therapy instead of going through treatment that will never help them,” Sukumar said. She will use the award funds to refine groups of markers to predict disease progression and response to therapy for women with breast cancer.

Commenting on the award, which the state supports via the Maryland Biotechnology Center, Gov. Martin O’Malley said, “In Maryland, we are fortunate to have within our borders some of the world’s best and brightest scientific minds. We are pleased to partner with our world-class universities to create jobs and support efforts to promote innovation to assert our state as a hub of research and discovery.”

The Johns Hopkins Alliance for Science and Technology Development was formed eight years ago to help the university’s faculty commercialize their research and technological innovations. High-level business executives sit on the board and offer advice, networking and help in finding money to move projects forward. The meeting between the Johns Hopkins Alliance and the UMB Commercial Advisory Board is an annual opportunity for researchers to network with business leaders and present concepts that aim to translate science to business.