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Press releases / 01.23.17

Broad Institute awarded contract to create new cancer cell models, accelerating development of valuable tools for cancer therapy research

Susanna M. Hamilton, Broad Communications
Credit : Susanna M. Hamilton, Broad Communications

Building on the success of the Cancer Cell Line Factory, institute researchers will develop 150 cancer models to further the field of precision medicine in an international collaboration.

Cambridge, MA, January 23rd, 2017

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has been awarded one of two research subcontracts by Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc., which operates the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research. The subcontract is for a Cancer Model Development Center (CMDC), which will produce 150 patient-derived cancer cell models as part of the Human Cancer Models Initiative (HCMI). The HCMI is an international collaboration between the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom (UK), Cancer Research UK, and the Hubrecht Organoid Technology foundation in the Netherlands to build approximately 1,000 new genomically characterized, clinically annotated cancer organoid and cancer cell models that can be easily accessed by researchers worldwide to propel the development of new treatments.

“To fulfill the promise of cancer precision medicine, a sufficient number and diversity of laboratory-based cancer models must exist and be available to every researcher,” said Jesse Boehm, director of the Broad Institute’s Cancer Cell Line Factory (CCLF, an institute effort launched in 2013 to create new cancer cell models) and associate director of the Broad Institute Cancer Program. To create and deliver effective drugs, tailored to fight a patient’s specific cancer, researchers must determine the relationship between the genetic mutations in the tumor cells and the cellular processes that cancer drugs could help inhibit — in other words, the cancer’s Achilles’ heels.

Researchers at Broad and elsewhere have been working on a map of these vulnerabilities using cell models, but currently available cell lines do not reflect the diverse types of cancer that can strike — more are necessary. The HCMI is generating additional new cell models for the research community to better represent the complex cancer landscape seen in patients today, scaling up efforts that the CCLF and other model developers have now proven feasible.

Broad Institute will acquire patient tissue samples to develop the cell models (for the NCI-sponsored CMDC project) in collaboration with five partner institutions: Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Boston University-Boston Medical Center (BU-BMC) Cancer Center, and the Rare Cancer Research Foundation.

“This is one of the most exciting projects NCI has sponsored,” said Keith Ligon, co-director with Boehm of the new CMDC and chief of neuropathology at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. “There’s really been an explosion of excitement around these valuable cancer models, and this effort will allow the Broad and its clinical partners to accelerate the science of cancer modeling internationally.”

These collaborations are also designed to facilitate the creation of cancer models specifically from rare cancers, such as those in children, and underrepresented patient populations. “This is a tremendous opportunity to partner with the Broad Institute in creating much-needed models of childhood cancers,” said Katherine Janeway, director of the Pediatric Solid Tumor Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. “This partnership will allow us to broaden the scope of precision medicine in pediatric cancers.”

“The more we understand the molecular events associated with cancer initiation and progression, the better we can translate these findings into more effective prevention and treatment for our underrepresented minority population,” said Avrum Spira, director of the BU-BMC Cancer Center. “BU-BMC is pleased to participate in this innovative collaboration.”

The CMDC contract with Leidos Biomedical Research builds on previous projects launched at Broad to tackle the underlying promise of cancer precision medicine: ensuring clinicians know which cancer drugs to give which patients. “To accomplish this, integrated efforts are needed in the clinic and in the laboratory, requiring the joint engagement and expertise of the entire Broad community,” said Boehm. “The opportunity to function as a CMDC, as part of the HCMI, is an amazing affirmation of the promise of team science to tackle cancer precision medicine challenges that transcend the capabilities of any one lab or institution.”

This project is fully funded by federal funds (funded by NCI Contract HHSN261201500003I, Task Order Number HHSN26100008).

About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine. The Broad Institute seeks to describe all the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods, and data openly to the entire scientific community.

Founded by MIT, Harvard, Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff, and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to

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Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Lee McGuire