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A Unique Approach to Translational Research

September 10, 2013 | Jill O'Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D.

The Cancer Research Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding laboratory and clinical studies aimed at harnessing the cancer-fighting power of the immune system, has been the leader in cancer immunotherapy for 60 years. Having helped to establish the field of cancer immunology, which is now on a firm scientific footing and gaining momentum, CRI is placing an increasing emphasis on the translation and clinical application of scientific discovery and identifying innovative ways to help bring the most promising immunotherapies to more cancer patients sooner.

Masoud Manjili in his September 10 Opinion: Translational Research in Crisis rightfully asserts that academic research faces significant problems turning laboratory discovery into innovative therapy. He further notes that there is “…significant discordance between preclinical findings and clinical results” and “…inefficient partnerships between academia and industry,” two challenges that must be addressed if academic research is to yield maximum clinical benefit and attain the ultimate goal of saving patients’ lives.

The Cancer Research Institute has tackled these two challenges with its two newest research programs, the Clinical Laboratory Integration Program (CLIP) and its Clinical Accelerator. The Clinical Accelerator is a unique venture philanthropy program that enables unprecedented research collaboration between biopharmaceutical companies and a network of leading academic clinicians and scientists. Along with our collaborator in this program, Ludwig Cancer Research, we work to identify promising new drug combinations, partner with companies to gain access to these drugs, and then provide investment capital and clinical trial support to the academic investigators to help kick-start clinical development. The program demands global collaboration among researchers in academia and industry, facilitates partnered clinical development by disparate biopharma companies, utilizes a one-of-a-kind clinical infrastructure that took over a decade to assemble, and invests in research-driven (as opposed to product-driven) clinical trials.

CLIP is CRI’s translation research program, but it importantly provides a two-way street between the clinic and the lab. A primary objective of the program is to start at the clinic, analyzing patient samples from clinical trials testing novel cancer immunotherapies and correlating these results with clinical outcomes. In this way, in-depth immunological monitoring, genetic and proteomic analyses, and biomarker discovery from patient samples guides further laboratory investigation, where mechanistic studies can be designed and animal modeling performed. The basic discoveries emanating from this type of research can then inform the design of future clinical trials and ultimately improve the development of cancer immunotherapies, as well as our ability to target the patients who will have the best chance of benefiting from a particular treatment.

Utilizing new paradigms to guide strategic investments in translational and clinical research can lead to better outcomes for patients. New models championed by not-for-profits like the Cancer Research Institute can lead the way towards a systemic change in funding structures that more efficiently capitalize on the phenomenal discoveries taking place in both the lab and the clinic.

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