$2.2M Grant Supports Exploration of Combined Therapies that Target Cancer Pathways and Promote Cell Death

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center investigators team up
July 7, 2016

Mehnert and SullivanNew Brunswick, N.J. – The director of the Phase I/Investigational Therapeutics Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Janice M. Mehnert, MD, is a co-principal investigator on a $2,271,427 grant (R01CA193970-01A1) recently awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).  She is collaborating with researcher Ryan J. Sullivan, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center to improve upon available cancer therapies that aim to block specific pathways that promote tumor growth.

When compared to chemotherapy, anti-cancer therapies designed to block the BRAF and MEK pathways that are known for promoting tumor growth improve response rate, progression free survival and overall survival in more than 50 percent of patients with BRAF-mutant melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body. While these drugs have become standards of care, patients still experience disease progression and die of their disease.  Drs. Mehnert and Sullivan and colleagues aim to improve the effectiveness of BRAF-directed therapy by targeting the death of cancer cells.

The pair previously demonstrated that treatment with the BRAF-directed therapy vemurafenib or a combination of the drugs dabrafenib and trametinib increases a certain protein in melanoma cell lines associated with cell death, or apoptosis. Pre-clinical data from the group found that when an investigational agent known as navitoclax, which promotes apoptosis, is combined with these drugs, there is an increase in tumor regression and cell death.  To further study the safety and efficacy of these combined therapies, Mehnert and Sullivan opened a clinical trial sponsored by the NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program at both Rutgers Cancer Institute and Dana-Farber Harvard Cancer Center. The grant will support the evaluation of results from the trial. Investigators also will explore biomarkers that predict the outcome of the combination of navitoclax with dabrafenib and trametinib. Employing genomic sequencing analysis of tumors from pre-clinical models also will be part of the work.

“We anticipate our research will determine an ideal strategy for implementing a new therapeutic, precision medicine approach to improve clinical outcomes of patients with BRAF-mutant melanoma and potentially other BRAF-mutant solid tumors,” notes Mehnert, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The project period runs through 2020.

About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey ( is the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. As part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey is dedicated to improving the detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer, and to serving as an education resource for cancer prevention. Physician-scientists at Rutgers Cancer Institute engage in translational research, transforming their laboratory discoveries into clinical practice.  To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 848-932-8013 or visit Follow us on Facebook at

The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Network is comprised of hospitals throughout the state and provides the highest quality cancer care and rapid dissemination of important discoveries into the community. Flagship Hospital: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. System Partner: Meridian Health (Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center, Southern Ocean Medical Center, and Bayshore Community Hospital). Affiliate Hospitals: JFK Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.


Michele Fisher









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