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CICON16: Translating Science Into Survival

September 24, 2016 | Arthur N. Brodsky, Ph.D.

This Sunday, we are proud to welcome the top international experts in immunology and immunotherapy to New York City, for the second International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference (CICON).

The conference is being hosted jointly by the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT), and the European Academy of Tumor Immunology (EATI), and over four days at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel will showcase the latest breakthroughs in our efforts to conquer cancer with the immune system.

In the past several years, immunotherapies like checkpoint blockade and CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T cells have revolutionized cancer treatment. They’ve produced amazing responses in patients with several different types of cancer, and helped many resume their normal lives, by eliminating tumors or at least allowing patients to manage them while maintaining a high quality of life.

Unfortunately, these strategies don’t work for all cancers yet. Now, the challenge is figuring out how to build on these initial successes, to benefit even more patients. Doctors are already testing current immunotherapies in combination with each other, as well as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other new approaches such as vaccines.

But in order to translate science into survival for more cancer patients, we need to understand more basic biology--about cancer, about the immune system, about our genes, and about other non-cancer cells, including the many bacteria that live in our body. And it takes research to get us there.

Only recently have we even begun to appreciate the complexity of the relationships between these different populations of cells and the environments in which they encounter each other. Our understanding has come a long way, but to overcome the current clinical roadblocks, we’ll need to know more about how these cells communicate with each other.

New technologies are helping us do that, enabling scientists to study cell behavior with unprecedented precision. This could teach us how to better combine current therapies, and also point out new potential targets. Furthermore, advances in our ability to analyze patient-specific details like DNA mutations open up the possibility of personalized therapies that can be tailored to individuals. Like each person, each tumor is different, so to achieve its full potential, immunotherapies must account for that.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but doctors and scientists are definitely starting to address the most important questions in fundamentally new ways, giving us hope for the future. Over the next few days, the fruits of some of these efforts will be revealed, and we’re looking forward to sharing these discoveries with you.

You can also follow along on social media by following the hashtag #cicon16.

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