Behar Innovation Awards in Sarcoma Research Awardee

October 2023

Anusha Kalbasi, MD, associate professor of radiation oncology, was awarded a $50,000 Behar Innovation Award in Sarcoma Research for his proposal titled “Immunotherapeutic targeting of fusion oncogenes in sarcoma.” Kalbasi recently joined Stanford as physician-scientist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of solid tumors such as sarcoma and melanoma. He is also involved in researching new approaches to cancer immunotherapy and leads clinical trials to test these treatments.

Sarcomas are rare, devastating cancers that develop in the bones or soft tissues. Affected patients are in desperate need of better treatments. Several sarcoma subtypes, including synovial sarcoma and myxoid liposarcoma, are caused by aberrant formation of a “fusion oncogene” – an event in which two unrelated genes are fused together, resulting in a protein that triggers cancer formation and progression. Attempts to develop cancer drugs against fusion oncogenes have not been successful. However, new technologies raise the possibility of using the immune system to target these fusions. In the long term, Kalbasi hopes to develop an mRNA vaccine to induce immune responses against fusion oncogenes and to similarly develop engineered immune cells that recognize these fusions. With the support of the Behar Innovation Award in Sarcoma Research, Kalbasi will take the first steps towards realizing these goals. He will first test the ability of the immune system to recognize and attack the fusion oncogenes found in synovial sarcoma and myxoid liposarcoma and then determine whether it is possible to identify and isolate the immune cells responsible for this attack.