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First Cancer Moonshot Award Announced at Yale School of Medicine

September 29, 2023

Yale School of Medicine and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro announced the first Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) grant in the United States, which is an outgrowth of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot program. The nearly $25 million award, titled “Curing the Uncurable via RNA Encoded Immunogene Tuning,” aims to train the immune system to better fight cancer and other diseases by educating specific immune cells with mRNA technology.

The total award, distributed over three years, will be shared among collaborating teams at Emory University, Yale School of Medicine, and University of Georgia. Researchers are working together to harness the natural immune system to fight against cancer, lupus, and emerging infections.

Philip Santangelo, PhD, of Emory and Georgia Tech, is the principal investigator, who will provide designer mRNA. Richard Edelson, MD, the Anthony N. Brady Professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, and a former director of Yale Cancer Center, is a co-principal investigator on the project. Edelson’s group brings functional dendritic cells, the master-switch of the adaptive immune system. Their discovery that dendritic cells can turn patients’ immune system “on” and “off” is foundational to this project. Now through the new ARPA-H funding, mRNA technology will be applied to these cells.

“At Yale, we developed the unique ability to produce dendritic cells quickly from any patient, and now we can instruct them with this designer mRNA to initiate immune reactions against any known protein, ranging from the spike protein of COVID-19 viruses to aggressive tumors of several common types,” Edelson said. “This funding accelerates translation of those accomplishments to potentially help treat a broad range of human cancers and other diseases.”

Edelson added that ARPA-H’s crusade to encourage “moonshot” investigative team efforts in cancer is personal to all who have been affected by cancer. He said he is grateful to DeLauro, the senior member on both the House Appropriations Committee and on the subcommittee that oversees medical research. She played a key role in the creation of ARPA-H. They were joined at the event by Nancy J. Brown, MD, dean of Yale School of Medicine.

“The chance that this generous funding has given us to make a significant leap forward is an opportunity we must seize,” said Edelson.

Submitted by Michael Masciadrelli on September 29, 2023