Stretching the Boundaries of Science
Major medical breakthroughs could not happen without the generosity of clinical trial participants. Some patients are living longer today thanks to past trial volunteers.
“Based on the success of the Lustgarten Foundation’s past research efforts, there are now more opportunities than ever to test new potential therapies in the clinic. The research conducted through the Clinical Accelerator Initiative will offer patients and their families newfound hope as we pursue life-changing discoveries.”
—Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D. Chief Medical Advisor
Clinical trials hold the promise of discovering new treatments at an accelerated pace to improve patient outcomes.
Dr. Robert F. Vizza Lustgarten Foundation Clinical Accelerator Initiative (CAI)

The CAI is a new, groundbreaking project designed to shorten the time from clinical trial concept to launch using a Lustgarten-developed process based on the best available science and employing cutting-edge biomarkers.

These “smarter” clinical trials will generate large volumes of data that scientists can use now and in the future. Even if a trial fails, the data will be used to inform and improve future clinical trials and expedite new treatments.

Recognizing the significant advancements made possible by his steadfast and strategic leadership, the CAI is named in honor of Dr. Robert F. Vizza, who led the Lustgarten Foundation as the first President and CEO and, later, as Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors until his retirement in 2020. During his 22-year tenure, Dr. Vizza pushed relentlessly to move science from the laboratory into the clinic, where it could have the most impact on patients.

The newly formed Translational Advisory Group, led by Chief Medical Advisor Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D., will guide the Clinical Accelerator Initiative by identifying, reviewing and developing the best translational projects to impact patient care in the clinic. This group includes renowned experts who are identifying the most innovative concepts and potential therapeutic approaches for all stages of pancreatic cancer and accelerating the testing of these new concepts.

The Translational Advisory Group is building a network of sites to execute the proposed research in small clinical trials of 10-20 patients each. These science-driven studies could dramatically inform research, enabling investigators to quickly determine if patients are responding to specific treatment approaches and why—information that will help us to continually enhance our approach in clinical trials and ultimately, clinical care.

In FY2020, the Lustgarten Foundation laid the groundwork for the first two trials to be conducted through the CAI. These exciting new clinical trials are focused on improving treatments and outcomes for patients with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Robert F. Vizza
Pancreatic cancer research is moving faster than ever before, and Lustgarten-funded researchers are at the forefront of the most promising breakthroughs. The Lustgarten Foundation is the only non-profit to fund five Dedicated Pancreatic Cancer Research Labs, including the newest clinical lab at Johns Hopkins added in 2020. These labs are united in their shared goals of increasing collaboration between world-renowned pancreatic cancer researchers, exploring promising avenues for understanding and treating pancreatic cancer and improving patient outcomes.

While 2020 was a daunting year for many—especially for pancreatic cancer patients who needed treatment during a global pandemic— Lustgarten researchers rallied together to continue the progress that’s been made in pancreatic cancer research for patients and their loved ones. Scientists and staff members at our dedicated labs did everything they could to ensure their groundbreaking work continued, from coordinating a complicated tangle of staff schedules and lab space to maintain distance and safety, to handling complex logistics and resources for testing and analysis, to collaborating via email or over Zoom.


Pancreatic cancer research is moving faster than ever before, and Lustgarten-funded researchers are at the forefront of the most promising breakthroughs. The Lustgarten Foundation is the only non-profit to fund five Dedicated Pancreatic Cancer Research Labs, including the newest clinical lab at Johns Hopkins added in 2020. These labs are united in their shared goals of increasing collaboration between world-renowned pancreatic cancer researchers, exploring promising avenues for understanding and treating pancreatic cancer and improving patient outcomes.

Long Island, New York
Lead by:
Focusing on Personalized Medicine
Dr. David Tuveson leads the Lustgarten Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), designing new models of the disease and discovering novel therapeutic and diagnostic platforms to bring new options to patients more rapidly. Dr. Tuveson was the first scientist to develop a pancreatic cancer organoid—a 3D cell culture system which reproduces a patient’s tumor. This enables researchers to repeatedly test the effectiveness of different drugs to accurately predict how a patient will respond to various therapies, offering the hope of personalized cancer treatments.
In November 2020, with the support of the Lustgarten Foundation, CSHL opened a new 2,200 square-foot or- ganoid facility that will play a significant role in the PASS-01 clinical trial. The lab will grow and test organoids for trial participants and will share its work with outside researchers, enabling physicians to make faster, better informed deci- sions about which drugs are likely to be most effective.
Boston, Massachusetts
Lead by:
Advancing Translational Research
Under the leadership of Dr. Brian Wolpin, the Lustgarten Laboratory at Dana-Farber is a critical hub for advancing research from the laboratory to the clinic (a process known as pancreatic cancer translational research), initiating scientifically-driven clinical trials and identifying new approaches to early detection. Dr. Wolpin and his team are also analyzing pancreatic cancer subtypes to understand mechanisms of drug resistance and the genetic drivers that determine each subtype.
“This year, we’ve made significant progress in understanding an inherited risk for pancreatic cancer in particular. If we can learn who’s at risk for pancreatic cancer by sequencing the DNA of patients, then we can use new blood tests and scans to find and treat cancer early. We can also use that information to devise new therapies through what’s sometimes called personalized medicine.”
Baltimore, Maryland
Lead by:
Furthering Early Detection and Therapeutics
Directed by Dr. Bert Vogelstein, the Lustgarten Laboratory at Johns Hopkins is using its expertise in early detection to discover pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage, when patients may be surgical candidates, and is developing new therapeutic approaches based on genetic alterations.
Researchers led by Dr. Vogelstein are working on CancerSEEK, a powerful blood test capable of detecting the early presence of pancreatic cancer and several other types of cancer, and CompCyst, a fluid-based test to help physicians diagnose pancreatic cyst type and to determine if surgery is necessary.
“The Lustgarten Foundation was one of the first private foundations to recognize the importance of early detection, and to recognize that prevention is better than a cure whenever it can be practiced. They were way ahead of the crowd for a long time as the only foundation convinced this was one of the major ways forward.”
Baltimore, Maryland
Lead by:
Advancing Immunology
The Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Research Clinical Laboratory at Johns Hopkins led by Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee is working to bring novel therapies for pancreatic cancer to the clinic as quickly as possible. Building on decades of experience and expertise in the immunology of pancreatic cancer, Dr. Jaffee and her team are focusing on immune therapies and developing approaches to bring the benefits of this revolutionary approach to treating tumors to pancreatic cancer.
“We have technologies that allow us to take a small piece of cancer tissue from a patient, study its genetics and proteins, and understand how that tumor is interacting with the immune system and with other systems in the body, and come up with possible therapies that may benefit those patients. This is where cancer research is going, and we could not do that even five years ago.”
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Lead by:
Merging Technology and Engineering
The Lustgarten Laboratory at MIT is leveraging its unparalleled expertise in cancer biology and engineering to advance pancreatic cancer research. Led by Dr. Tyler Jacks, the laboratory is studying the genetic events contributing to cancer development and examining the immune responses to the disease using molecular profiling to identify tumor mutations.
“Over the last year, we’ve built new model systems in mouse models of the disease that allow us to study with a level of precision that has not previously been possible. We’re currently running preclinical trials in those model systems to see which drugs and drug combinations work best to bring about a proper immune response against pancreatic cancer. If we are successful, and I’m hopeful that we will be, we can then move those concepts and treatments into clinical trials relatively quickly, with the help of the Lustgarten Foundation.”
Q. What gives you HOPE for the future?
David Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
“I’m very hopeful about the future of pancreatic cancer patients as we begin moving our science into the clinic. We have the doctors, the scientists, the supporters and the patients who want to sign up for clinical trials. This is the next step in our efforts to make pancreatic cancer history and it is only possible because of Lustgarten Foundation funding.”
Bert Vogelstein, M.D.
Johns Hopkins
“Rapidly advancing technologies have accelerated research and offered opportunities for discoveries about pancreatic cancer that were previously unattainable. In the coming years, we anticipate even more progress in understanding, detecting, and treating the disease.”
Tyler Jacks, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
“The science behind pancreatic cancer is getting better by the day. Our depth of understanding of how this disease arises and progresses is much, much deeper today than it was just a few years ago. And that will definitely translate into new therapies. I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re making tremendous scientific progress, and invariably clinical progress follows. The support that we get from organizations like the Lustgarten Foundation is critical. Without it, we could not make progress.”
Brian Wolpin, M.D., MPH
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
“We have multiple new clinical trials that are opening now and in the next one to two years, based on the science tested in the laboratory at Dana-Farber and by other Lustgarten-funded investigators. The support that the Lustgarten Foundation has provided for the past ten years has greatly helped us advance our work in bringing new therapies to our patients. We see hope for our patients in this research, and we’re very optimistic that these trials will provide significant advances.”
Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D
Johns Hopkins
“We are rapidly converting laboratory discoveries into new treatments that are being tested in innovative clinical trials. Findings from these clinical trials help us understand how these new treatments are working in patients, and also provide important information that helps us improve their activity against pancreatic cancer. In addition, our new technologies allow us to learn much more about an individual’s cancer and response to different treatments. During the next 5 years our goal is to learn enough to be able to personalize combination treatments and make a big difference in how this disease is treated.”
CancerSEEK Accelerates Early Detection
Lustgarten-funded research at Johns Hopkins played an instrumental role in the development of an early detection blood-based test called CancerSEEK that can identify the presence of multiple cancers. A landmark study of the test, released in April 2020, shows promising results for earlier detection as part of routine medical checks, enabling potentially curative treatment that could change patient outcomes.
The DETECT-A study, conducted by Johns Hopkins and Geisinger Health, enrolled more than 10,000 women with no prior history of cancer. The purpose was to identify multiple cancer types in asymptomatic individuals using an early version of CancerSEEK. The study found that the test more than doubled the number of cancers that were first “screen-detected” and identified undiagnosed cancers in 10 different organs (including seven with no current standard-of-care screening). The technology behind CancerSEEK was licensed to Thrive, and based on the success of DETECT-A, Thrive was recently acquired by Exact Sciences. This partnership brings additional resources and expertise to accelerate the development and commercialization of CancerSEEK.
Artificial Intelligence is Key to Detecting Pancreatic Cancer Earlier
Scientists from a broad range of disciplines at Johns Hopkins are using artificial intelligence to detect pancreatic cancer earlier. Through their research, they’ve trained computers to recognize patterns in medical images to detect pancreatic tumors on CT scans. Researchers are working to detect on CT scans pancreatic tumors measuring one centimeter or less, when they may be missed by a diagnostician, so diagnosis and subsequent treatment can be started much sooner. This research is part of the Foundation’s overall FELIX project (named for Harry Potter’s Felix Felicis, also called “Liquid Luck,” a magical potion that makes the drinker lucky) focusing on developing new early detection methods using artificial intelligence.
New CompCyst Test Can Prevent Unnecessary Surgeries
The Lustgarten-dedicated laboratory at Johns Hopkins is developing a test called CompCyst, which combines clinical, radiological, genetic and protein marker information to classify pancreatic cysts and determine which ones require surgery. The Lustgarten Laboratory at Johns Hopkins is working to further develop CompCyst into a clinically approved test.

The Pancreatic Cancer Collective, a joint initiative of the Lustgarten Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer, is making groundbreaking progress in identifying new ways to treat pancreatic cancer and improving outcomes for patients. The Collective is conducting nearly 30 clinical trials led by more than 400 research investigators at approximately 70 participating institutions.

A new, interactive tool on the Collective’s website, created in 2020, provides details and locations of clinical trials around the country, enabling pancreatic cancer patients and their loved ones to easily find information on current and ongoing research for which they may be a candidate.

30 Clinical Trials
400 Research Investigators
70 Participating Institutions
  • Four projects supported by the Collective’s “New Therapies Challenge” grants have made it through the second round of funding, enabling researchers to take potential treatments into clinical trials and accelerate the discovery of new therapeutic options. These innovative ideas represent a bold step forward in helping patients and will support nine new clinical trials, five of which are already underway. The projects are:

  • Exploiting DNA Repair Gene Mutations in Pancreatic Cancer

    Principal Investigators: Alan D’Andrea, M.D. and James Cleary, M.D., Ph.D., both from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

  • Immunotherapy Targeting Mutant KRAS

    Principal Investigators: Robert Vonderheide, M.D., D.Phil., Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D., Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins and Beatriz Carreno, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

  • Molecularly Targeted Radionuclide Therapy via the Integrin AlphaVbeta6

    Principal Investigators: Julie Sutcliffe, Ph.D. and Richard Bold, M.D., both from the University of California, Davis

  • Targeting SHP2 in Pancreatic Cancer

    Principal Investigators: René Bernards, Ph.D., Netherlands Cancer Institute, Hana Algül, M.D., Ph.D., Technical University of Munich and Emile Voest, M.D., Ph.D., Netherlands Cancer Institute

    These projects encompass several different approaches, from targeted delivery of radiotherapies (Drs. Sutcliffe and Bold), to vaccines against mutant KRAS, the mutation found in more than 90% of pancreatic cancers (Drs. Vonderheide, Jaffee and Carreno), to combination strategies to address mutations with DNA damage repair deficiencies (Drs. D’Andrea and Cleary), to KRAS activation (Drs. Bernards, Algül and Voest).

    The Collective also awarded two grants for computational approaches using artificial intelligence to mimic human reasoning and identify individuals in the general population who are at high risk for pancreatic cancer.