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#AACR16 Update: The Cancer Research Institute’s Impact on Immunotherapy

April 20, 2016

Since our founding in 1953, the Cancer Research Institute has pioneered the field of cancer immunology, and under the leadership of the late Lloyd J. Old, M.D., our founding medical and scientific director, paved the way for the revolutionary, lifesaving breakthroughs that immunotherapy provides today.

When Dr. Old—“the Father of Modern Tumor Immunology”—began his career, tumor immunology was still on the fringe of scientific credibility, but as a result of his visionary work, the pivotal relationship between cancer and the immune system has been soundly established.

In honor of Dr. Old’s invaluable contributions to our understanding of cancer, CRI created an award in his name. This year, the fourth annual recipient of the Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology is Ronald Levy, M.D., who is a member of CRI’s Academy of Cancer Immunology. In his opening remarks, Levy mused that, “Dr. Lloyd Old would have been very proud of how far immunotherapy has come.”

Throughout Dr. Levy’s career, he has helped advance immunotherapy treatments for lymphoma patients. First, in the 1990s, he developed and tested the first FDA-approved to treat lymphoma, the anti-CD20 antibody. Dr. Levy successfully pursued this breakthrough, which B cell lymphoma patients all around the world still receive, despite the fact that “for a long time, people thought this would never be possible,” according to session chair Giorgio Trinchieri, M.D., who serves on CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council.

Dr. Levy agreed, and described the many problems that were initially raised about the strategy. He quickly pointed out how each of these problems was solved, which serves as a useful lesson overall for the field of cancer immunotherapy, a field that has proven more remarkably effective than many ever dreamed.

More recently, Dr. Levy has performed breakthrough work regarding in situ vaccination of lymphoma tumors, which have shown promising results in mice, especially in concert with other treatments including checkpoint blockade. Dr. Levy also showed that this approach can be used to treat metastatic tumors, and is applicable in spontaneous breast cancer tumors. Initial clinical trials are already under way to test these combinations in human patients.

While we at CRI are proud of our organization’s history, and encouraged by the lives our work has saved thus far, there remains much more to do. In addition to Dr. Levy and the many other CRI scientists who have showcased important discoveries and breakthroughs in cancer immunotherapy over the past few days at AACR16, CRI has also been directly involved in efforts to develop better immunotherapy solutions for colorectal cancer (CRC).

One recent study proved the effectiveness of checkpoint blockade immunotherapy in a small subset of colorectal cancer patients, and the challenge then became how to extend and improve immunotherapy’s effectiveness for the remaining CRC patients.

To address that challenge, CRI partnered with Fight CRC and over 20 academia and industry experts to develop a blueprint that outlines a promising path forward. This blueprint, which focuses on strategies in both the clinic and the lab, was presented by Dr. Al Benson III on Tuesday night. In short, clinical strategies must be designed to address the specifics of different types of CRC tumors, while research efforts in the lab must complement those clinical strategies by revealing more of the underlying dynamics of CRC tumors and how they interact with patients’ immune systems.

However, that blueprint is just the beginning. Next, we will turn that blueprint into a publication that spreads the insights we have developed to the entire field, and then we will devote funds to carry out these strategies. While CRC has traditionally proven very hard to treat, immunotherapy’s initial successes against CRC, combined with the recent efforts of CRI and Fight CRC provide hope that we can reign in this deadly disease.


Related: Killing Cancer: Immunotherapy for Leukemia and Lymphoma, with Ronald Levy, M.D. 

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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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