Cleveland Clinic researcher seeks funds to advance breast cancer vaccine into human trials

Nearly two years after a Cleveland Clinic immunologist generated promising results in mice with a potential preventative breast cancer vaccine, local residents and businesses are trying to help him raise enough money so that he can proceed to human clinical trials.

Cleveland's The Plain Dealer newspaper tells a really interesting story about how unconventional sources may raise the needed cash where traditional grant options have failed.

The researcher, Vincent Tuohy, is based at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, and generated high-profile research in May 2010, according to the story. Nature Medicine published the results and Tuohy talked about them on national TV and in print articles around the world. His research essentially found that one vaccine dose of lactalbumin (found in the breast milk of healthy women and most breast cancers) in mice can stop existing tumors from growing and prevent new ones from forming, according to the story

Tuohy told the newspaper that he had hoped to secure additional grants from sources such as the National Cancer Institute, and new money from Susan G. Komen for the Cure, but those institutions rejected his proposals to proceed. The Department of Defense's Breast Cancer Research Program rejected a smaller grant earlier this year that would continue additional research in mice. Tuohy said the denial was based on "a technicality" because he didn't successful show that the promising data from previous testing in mice was equal scientifically to women "who had lactated during pregnancy, given birth and had breast-fed afterward," according to the article.

Why would a researcher have such problems raising the cash to proceed? The article posits the idea that competition for cancer research money is just really difficult, with the NCI funding just 12% of the 9,000-plus proposals it received in 2011. The Komen foundation isn't much better, apparently, typically giving money to fewer than 80 of the 1,400 research grant applications it receives annually.

So bit-by-bit, Tuohy has been raising money from the community at large. According to the story, a high school senior presented a $110,000 check from an annual race her family started that raises money for breast cancer research. The Cleveland Clinic itself has raised more than $271,000 for Tuohy's research since 2010, and even folks from across the country who are aware of Tuohy's work are donating money and sending checks. Tuohy is also talking to the Chinese government about developing his vaccine there. It is true that clinical advances in mice and other animal trials aren't always easily replicated in people. But Tuohy and his supporters continue to plow ahead. And the fundraising continues, according to the story, with a need to raise at least $6 million to proceed.

- here's The Plain Dealer story