Last week, Pramod K. Srivastava, M.D., Ph.D., who currently serves on the Cancer Research Institute’s (CRI) Scientific Advisory Council, was elected a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), which, since 2010, has honored the remarkable achievements of top academic minds.
This honor from the NAI recognizes Dr. Srivastava’s pioneering role in bringing personalized medicine to cancer treatment, specifically for his work in tumor immunity that involved discovering the proteins involved in tumor rejection as well as developing the first personalized cancer vaccine.
As co-founder of Antigenics (which is called Agenus Inc., now), Srivastava led the team that created the first therapeutic cancer vaccine, Oncophage®, to be approved anywhere in the world when in 2008 Russia allowed it for use in patients with kidney cancer. The vaccine is also in clinical trials in the U.S. for patients with glioblastoma, the most dangerous form of brain cancer.
Oncophage® takes advantage of a discovery made by Srivastava himself during his time as a CRI-funded postdoctoral fellow from 1984 to 1987. Before founding Antigenics, Srivastava worked under Lloyd J. Old, M.D., who served as CRI’s scientific and medical director for 40 years until stepping down in 2011. While in Old’s lab, Srivastava advanced the idea that novel mutations in individual tumors produce specific, immunogenic markers known as antigens. The immune system can then use these unique antigens to identify tumors and attack them. Developing this concept into strategies to treat patients has propelled Srivastava’s four-decades-long career in cancer immunotherapy, during which time he has been awarded more than 100 patents from several countries.
Srivastava believes that this personalized approach to cancer treatment offers us the best chance to truly conquer cancer. However, he acknowledges that hurdles do remain in realizing its full potential. For example, tumors can have many, sometimes thousands of, mutations, but only a few represent promising targets. To design more effective treatments in a timely fashion, researchers need a better way to identify these useful targets.
While he understands the importance of translating basic research breakthroughs into clinical therapies to improve patients’ lives, Srivastava stresses that the emphasis must be on basic research. “We must not worry about translation. We should focus on doing good fundamental science; how to make big discoveries and make sure they’re real,” because, as he puts it, “all good science gets applied.”
Srivastava, along with the other new 2015 NAI Fellows, will be inducted during the Fifth Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors. The ceremony will take place on April 15, 2016, at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA.
Dr. Srivastava admits that it is “always good to be acknowledged,” but, more importantly, hopes that this announcement brings recognition to and helps advance the promising field of cancer immunotherapy.
Dr. Srivastava is currently a professor of immunology at the University of Connecticut, where he serves as the director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Center for Immunotherapy of Cancer and Infectious Diseases.
Photo Credit: University of Connecticut Health Center