Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of CRI's Scientific Advisory Council treated Mary Elizabeth Williams with immunotherapy for stage 4 melanoma in 2011.
Harnessing the immune system to fight cancer has long been a dream of cancer researchers. As Denise Grady of the New York Times writes in her front-page story published this past weekend, after decades of basic research, including work funded by the Cancer Research Institute, cancer immunotherapy is a reality today that is providing cure-like responses in patients with advanced cancer.
Recent breakthroughs in treating cancer with immunotherapy have “brought new optimism to cancer doctors—a sense that they have begun tapping into a force of nature, the medical equivalent of splitting the atom,” Grady writes.
Indeed, excitement over the potential of immunotherapy to treat and potentially cure all cancers is at an unprecedented level. But we’re far from realizing its full potential. As Grady points out,
“Yet for all the promise and excitement, the fact is that so far, immunotherapy has worked in only a minority of patients, and researchers are struggling to find out why. They know they have their hands on an extraordinarily powerful tool, but they cannot fully understand or control it yet.”
Yes, progress has been significant, and many people with cancer are living longer today. But more work needs to be done to empower our immune systems against all forms of cancer. That’s why the Cancer Research Institute is committed to funding lifesaving research aimed at improving the effectiveness of immunotherapy in more patients.
Immunotherapy has always been at the core of CRI’s mission, and we were grateful that Grady included in her article a description of CRI’s pioneering and ongoing leadership role in the field. She recounts the origins of cancer immunotherapy, first discovered by Dr. William B. Coley and later developed thanks to funding from the Cancer Research Institute, which Coley’s daughter, Helen Coley Nauts, established in 1953. Grady also provides information on our Clinical Trial Finder, a free service that connects patients to cancer immunotherapy trials.
The article also features several members of CRI’s scientific leadership, including Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., director of CRI’s immunotherapy clinical trials Scientific Advisory Committee and a world-leading cancer immunotherapy clinician-scientist, and James P. Allison, Ph.D., director of CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council, who created the first in a new class of immunotherapies called checkpoint inhibitors, which are primarily responsible for the current clinical successes we’re seeing.
"The Cancer Research Institute has funded this kind of basic immunology research for decades, knowing that open-ended inquiry in the laboratory makes possible discoveries that save lives."
In the article, Allison, a highly distinguished immunologist (and likely future Nobel Prize winner, Grady notes), underscores the importance of basic research and how it provided the foundation for cancer immunotherapy. “None of [these cancer immunotherapy treatments] came from cancer research, none,” Allison stressed. Rather, today’s treatments stem from basic research that sought to understand how the immune system works. The Cancer Research Institute has funded this kind of basic immunology research for decades, knowing that open-ended inquiry in the laboratory makes possible discoveries that save lives. And while CRI also funds clinical trials that put these discoveries to the test, we know that it’s basic research that will provide the cures of tomorrow.
The article also features personal stories of patients who have received treatment with immunotherapy, describes the different ways immunotherapy can be given alone and in combination with other treatments, and touches on the important issues of side effects, cost, and access.
Read the article here. And please consider making a donation to the Cancer Research Institute to help us fund more research and save more lives.