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Lovly earns Damon Runyon Cancer Research Award

July 17, 2013

Christine Lovly, M.D., Ph.D.

Christine Lovly, M.D., Ph.D.

Christine Lovly, M.D., Ph.D., instructor in Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has earned the 2013 Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator Award, which supports young physician-scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research.

The three-year award will provide $450,000 for Lovly’s research efforts in lung cancer.

“I am so honored to receive this prestigious and competitive award from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation,” said Lovly. “This kind of support is crucial for early career scientists who are establishing their own research laboratories. I am very pleased to have been selected for this award and I am extremely grateful for all the support I received from my colleagues at Vanderbilt in preparation for this award.”

Damon Runyon was a journalist and short story writer whose stories were used as the basis for the hit Broadway show, Guys and Dolls. When Runyon died of throat cancer in 1946, his friend and radio personality Walter Winchell asked listeners to contribute funds to help fight cancer. Since 1946, the Damon Runyon Cancer Memorial Fund, now known as the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, has provided $260 million to scientists, including 11 Nobel Laureates, who are investigating the causes and potential treatments for cancer.

Lovly is investigating novel therapeutic strategies for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors are positive for ALK tyrosine kinase fusions. Initially identified in 2007 as a novel ‘driver mutation’ in lung cancer, genomic alterations in ALK are also found in subsets of lymphoma, sarcoma, neuroblastoma, colon cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and thyroid cancer.

A small molecule inhibitor of ALK was recently FDA approved to treat ALK+ lung cancer. However, as is consistent with other small molecule inhibitors in clinical use, disease progression after initial response, a concept referred to as ‘acquired resistance,’ is evident. Lovly is working to develop new therapeutic agents or drug combinations that delay or overcome this acquired resistance.

Lovly earned her B.A. in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., followed by M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. She came to Vanderbilt University in 2006 as part of the Physician Scientist Training Program. She completed residency in internal medicine and fellowship in medical oncology.  She was named Chief Fellow in 2011-2012.

Lovly recently joined Vanderbilt as an assistant professor of Medicine. Her laboratory is located in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, which also provides support for her research.