Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Celebrating 71 Years of Immunotherapy Successes

January 27, 2024, marks CRI’s 71st anniversary as an institution, and specifically as an organization focused solely on cancer immunotherapy research. Since Helen Coley Nauts and Oliver Grace Sr. co-founded CRI in 1953, it has been involved with a wide array of cancer immunotherapy research breakthroughs and other developments that have improved patient outcomes over the decades. This past year was no exception, and we are pleased to share just a few of the exciting highlights from 2023. 

A Paradigm Shift in the Drug Development Pipeline

2023 saw scientific discoveries continue to drive progress in clinical settings. There was an increased examination of innovative therapies, novel immunotherapy targets, and a shift in modalities. CRI’s Anna-Maria Kellen Clinical Accelerator team published a detailed telling of this shift in the cancer immunotherapy research space in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. A part of the overall analysis of the Nature Reviews Drug Discovery article examined over 9,000 clinical trials between 2018 and 2022. One of the more significant findings was illuminating that the number of therapeutic targets increased from 2020 to 2022 by nearly 25%.  

A Pancreatic Cancer Partnership with Promise 

This past autumn, CRI and the Lustgarten Foundation announced a partnership designed specifically to aggressively target pancreatic cancer immunotherapy research. The partnership, dubbed INSPIRE (Integrated Network for Supporting Pancreatic Cancer Immunotherapy Research Efforts), involves the adaptive platform trial REVOLUTION, which evaluates chemo-immunotherapy combination treatments with an eye to expand into untapped areas of pancreatic immunotherapy research. REVOLUTION was created with flexibility in mind, seamlessly allowing researchers to dissect multiple hypotheses simultaneously. Pancreatic cancer is an unfortunately aggressive and deadly cancer, so this partnership is an important step in the fight against it.  

Promising Phase 2 Results Pave the Way for Progress Against Lung Cancer 

In October, a Nature Medicine article was published describing how circulating tumor DNA, or ctDNA (cell-free DNA that is shed into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells) can help patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who are undergoing immunotherapy. Specifically, ctDNA can help identify patients who might benefit from treatment with additional immunotherapies. Torrey Coast Foundation GEMINI CLIP Investigator Valsamo “Elsa” Anagnostou, MD, PhD, director of the thoracic oncology biorepository at Johns Hopkins, leader of Precision Oncology Analytics, co-leader of the Johns Hopkins Molecular Tumor Board, and co-director of the Lung Cancer Precision Medicine Center of Excellence, is the first author of the Nature Medicine paper. 

“Our study demonstrates that ctDNA response correlated with tumor size seen on imaging, which is the gold standard for monitoring response to cancer treatments and seemed to be better correlated with survival. This suggests ctDNA could be used as a strategy to identify patients at high risk of disease progression who could benefit from a switch in their therapeutic regimen,” Dr. Anagnostou said of the paper’s findings. CRI CEO and Director of Scientific Affairs Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, was also a co-author on the Nature Medicine paper. 

“The innovations happening in the drug pipeline, the INSPIRE partnership with the Lustgarten Foundation, and the Nature Medicine ctDNA paper are all rich examples of the exemplary science that we are proud to be a part of here at CRI,” Dr. O’Donnell-Tormey said. “It is always important to build off the existing science that forms the foundation of tomorrow’s discoveries, and as CRI enters its 71st year as an immunotherapy-based nonprofit, we look forward to continuing to help propel lifesaving and life-improving scientific progress. That is ultimately how we create a world immune to cancer.” 

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