Vaccine named after Maple Valley-based nonprofit Wings of Karen headed to clinical trial in early 2015

Funding provided through Wings of Karen accelerates breast cancer research, including the development of a vaccine headed to a clinical trial next year.

Funding provided through Wings of Karen accelerates breast cancer research, including the development of a vaccine headed to a clinical trial next year.

The research and creation of the vaccine, which is aimed at preventing a recurrence of tumors, is being led by Dr. Mary (Nora) Disis, director of the Tumor Vaccine Group at UW Medicine.

The vaccine, which has been named the Wings of Karen Vaccine after the nonprofit, is planned to be in a trial in January of 2015.

“Wings of Karen Vaccine was able to receive funding over at UW Medicine directly because of our support through our 5K Bra Dash and our Pink Carpet event we held last year,” Founder and Director Kristi Blair said.

“It’s a really advanced vaccine in the fact that it is for 3 sub types (of breast cancer),” Blair said.

The vaccine targets HER-2/neu, insulin like growth factor receptor-1, and insulin like growth factor binding protein 2 — immunogenic proteins that are over-expressed in some sub types of breast cancer.

“It’s the furthest a vaccine has come in ever, and it is all happening here,” Blair said. “It’s amazing.”

Wings of Karen gave a $100,000 grant for study and development of the vaccine.

“Dr. Nora has been working on this her entire career,” Blair explained. “It was finishing it out and getting it to the clinical trials so it can get to the patients,” she said of the grant.

Blair cautioned that the vaccine still has a long way to go, but the progress is significant.

“The hope is that this vaccine will eventually be preventative,” she said. “Right now they are using it to support women with recurrence, but eventually they hope that this vaccine would be used as preventative altogether.”

Wings of Karen was founded on the heels of Blair’s own fight with the disease and is named in honor of her mother who passed away from breast cancer several years before Blair was diagnosed.

In the past two years the organization has raised and donated almost $250 thousand for breast cancer research being conducted in the Puget Sound region. The organization partners with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance which includes Fred Hutchinson and UW Medicine.

In addition to the vaccine study, Wings of Karen has also given a $100,000 grant to Dr. Mary-Claire King, who discovered the BRAC 1 and 2 genes, to study genetic pathways of the disease, particularly in breast cancer that affects 20- and 30-year-old women.

In it’s first year the organization gave a $30,000 grant to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to study methods of detection in younger women.

“It has gotten phenomenal findings — that it’s proving to detect breast cancer in young women that mammographies can’t detect,” Blair said.

Ultimately, she said the goal of funding grants is to “kickstart promising projects.”

Blair estimated that an infusion of funding from an organization like Wings of Karen can accelerate a study by five or six years.

Next up for the organization will be the third annual Bra Dash 5K at Lake Wilderness Park on Sept. 28. This year, Blair said, King will be in attendance.

“It’s a dream come true for me as a breast cancer survivor,” Blair said. “She runs a very busy schedule, but she rearranged her whole schedule to be at the Bra Dash.”

Blair also said that the park capacity is about 2,000 runners and she is hoping to see that max out this year.

“We’re just doing the same thing — just bigger and, hopefully, better,” Blair said.