Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J., August 5, 2019 – A pair of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey physician-scientists are collaborating on national research projects that received $1.5 million in combined funding from the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network® (ORIEN) New Oncologic Visionary Awards (NOVA) program.

The program is supported by the ORIEN Foundation, which received an initial donation from M2Gen, a health informatics solutions company focused on accelerating the discovery, development and delivery of precision medicine. The ORIEN Foundation awarded $3 million total to fund seven team science research projects over the next two years. Each of the awarded projects are led by ORIEN Member institutions, an alliance of key oncology stakeholders dedicated to breaking down the silos that can inhibit discovery and progress. Rutgers Cancer Institute is one of these members.

Shridar Ganesan, MD, PhD, associate director for translational science and chief of molecular oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute, received $500,000 for his team’s project: “Chromatin abnormalities and endogenous retroviral expression as a novel biomarker of response to immune checkpoint therapy in low mutation burden cancers.”

Dr. Ganesan, who is also a professor of medicine and pharmacology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Omar Boraie Chair in Genomic Science, is leading a team that aims to develop new ways to identify which patients with breast cancer may benefit from immunotherapy. They found that some breast cancers have abnormal expression of normally silenced virus-like elements, called endogenous retroviruses (ERV). ERVs are like “genomic fossils” present in the DNA of all cells, but usually silenced. However in some cancers these ERVs are reactivated, and this is associated with partial activation of the immune system. Ganesan and colleagues will explore why some cancers have reactivation of these “genomic fossils” and whether abnormal expression of ERV may be associated with response to immune checkpoint therapy.

The aim is to identify a novel biomarker that can help guide the use of immunotherapy for cancer patients.  The research team involves investigators at Rutgers Cancer Institute including Drs. Gyan Bhanot, Eric Singer, Tina Mayer, Greg Reidlinger and Janice Mehnert, as well as collaborators at Vanderbilt University and University of Virginia.

Andrew M. Evens, DO, MSc, FACP, associate director for clinical services and director of the Lymphoma Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute, is part of a larger team that received $1 million for the project: “Targeting poor-risk relapsed non-Hodgkin lymphoma subtypes.” This is a translational project led by Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and the Iowa Cancer Center in collaboration with the Huntsman Cancer Center, the City of Hope, the Moffitt Cancer Center, the University of Virginia Cancer Center, the James Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Rutgers Cancer Institute in a new consortium known as LION (Lymphoma Innovations ORIEN Network).

Dr. Evens, who is also the medical director of oncology services at RWJBarnabas Health and a professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, will collaborate closely with colleagues on this project to perform detailed molecular and genomic characterization of host and disease factors that predict response to treatment and survival in several lymphoma subtypes (e.g., diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, and mantle cell lymphoma). In addition, they will analyze detailed epidemiologic data using methods similar to the Lymphoma Epidemiology of Outcomes (LEO) Cohort Study as well as design new clinical trials for patients with relapsed disease with these lymphoma subtypes in a personalized manner based on molecularly-defined target populations.

The ORIEN NOVA program aims to advance research by encouraging collaborative multidisciplinary team science across the ORIEN members, allowing researchers to share information and expertise, in order to improve patient care.

“Cancer is a complicated disease, and no single entity can solve it alone – innovative partnerships and access to data are the keys to answering cancer’s toughest questions,” said William S. Dalton, PhD, MD, executive chair of M2Gen. “We’ve initiated the ORIEN NOVA program to give researchers and physician scientists the opportunity to access all of the resources of ORIEN’s research alliance, breaking down barriers between institutions to enable rapid learning and accelerate research efforts and discovery to bring new treatments to patients.”

More than 60 proposals were received from ORIEN cancer center faculty across the United States. Selected projects that underwent a scientific, peer-review included those that demonstrated the potential for high-impact cancer research, as well as utilization of new data analytics and data acquisition tools.

About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute, along with its partner RWJBarnabas Health, offers the most advanced cancer treatment options including bone marrow transplantation, proton therapy, CAR T-cell therapy and complex robotic surgery.  Along with clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy – many of which are not widely available – patients have access to these cutting-edge therapies at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital in Newark, as well as through RWJBarnabas Health facilities.

Along with world-class treatment, which is often fueled by on-site research conducted in Rutgers Cancer Institute laboratories, patients and their families also can seek cancer preventative services and education resources throughout the Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health footprint statewide. To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 848-932-8013 or visit