Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



27836 two male scientists in laboratories - one from the 1950s and one from the 2020s

Celebrating Seven Decades of CRI Discovery in Cancer Immunotherapy

On January 27, 1953, the Cancer Research Institute’s founders, Helen Coley Nauts and Oliver R. Grace Sr., received official confirmation of CRI’s incorporation as the world’s first nonprofit organization dedicated to cancer immunology and immunotherapy. Known then as the New York Cancer Research Institute, CRI quickly distinguished itself as a pioneer and pacesetter in immuno-oncology, funding generations of scientists and making it possible for them to explore the immune system and its relationship to cancer – with the goal of finding new, more effective ways to treat a disease that claims millions of lives each year.

As we celebrate CRI’s 70th anniversary, we recognize our founders’ visionary foresight and how their work created and continues to shape the field of cancer immunology. Their lifelong commitment to finding alternatives to radiation and chemotherapy has been realized in the development of lifesaving cancer immunotherapies, which today are the standard treatment for multiple cancers alone or in combination with other forms of cancer treatment. As a result, immunotherapy along with better preventive screenings as part of routine healthcare has produced the first significant decline in cancer deaths in the United States – and immunotherapy’s impact is just now beginning to be felt, with many more advances yet to come that will save even more lives.

Thanks to the generosity of our community of supporters, CRI has invested more than $500 million to train and advance the work of 3,500 scientists around the world. This funding has underpinned many of the seminal discoveries that are foundational to today’s advances in immuno-oncology. Some examples of these discoveries made by CRI-funded scientists include:

  • Identification of the structure of the major histocompatibility complex and its mechanisms of antigen presentation
  • Identification of the first tumor-associated antigen, MAGE-A
  • Description of how immune cells can produce a diverse repertoire of trillions of antibodies
  • The first evidence of spontaneous immune response to autologous cancer antigens in humans
  • Demonstration that dendritic cells (DCs) promote T cell growth and adaptive immune responses, providing support for the first DC vaccine in cancer patients
  • Identification of T cell exhaustion in the presence of chronic infection and, later, cancer
  • Validation of immuno-surveillance and description of cancer immunoediting
  • Identification of patient traits that could predict responses to immune checkpoint blockade immunotherapy
  • Utilization of CRISPR-based gene editing technologies to decode and rewrite the human immune system at the genetic level to improve T cell immunotherapy
  • Development of gene engineering techniques that equip CAR T cells with new capabilities to increase their effectiveness in treating solid tumors

As CRI begins its eighth decade, we reaffirm our commitment to the field of cancer immunology, confident that our support of outstanding science and the best people will deliver innovation leading to more lives saved. Incorporating the newer disciplines of data science and computational biology into our existing portfolio of research programs is sure to bolster CRI’s position as the nonprofit leader in immunotherapy.

The future for cancer patients is brighter – with more treatment options, better tools to shape individual treatment plans, and a greater chance than ever before of stopping – and even curing – cancer.

All of us at the Cancer Research Institute are extremely proud to be part of an organization that has pioneered immunotherapies that today are delivering cures to patients with previously intractable cancers. We look ahead with optimism and thank our global CRI Network of scientists, our generous supporters, our board leadership, and our dedicated staff who together make CRI’s mission possible.

We hope that you will celebrate with us seven decades of discovery and hope. Throughout the year ahead, we will feature the stories of scientists, patients, and donors who exemplify CRI’s commitment to scientific excellence, transformative cancer treatments, and philanthropic power. Together, we are creating a world immune to cancer.

Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD
CEO and Director of Scientific Affairs

Listen to our Spotify and YouTube CRI 70th Anniversary Platinum Playlists of inspirational and motivational music suggested by CRI scientists, patient ImmunoAdvocates, and staff. Do you have a song that gets you through the day? Share it with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #CRI70.

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