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Honoring a Legacy of Hope to Create a Future Immune to Cancer

October 10, 2019

This year, CRI celebrated the service of two long-standing trustees who, along with their families, have helped to build and guide CRI since inception. On Monday, October 7, 2019, CRI held its 33rd Annual Awards Dinner at The Rainbow Room in New York City. Nearly 260 individuals joined CRI in honoring trustees Geoffrey O. Coley and Oliver R. Grace Jr., with their namesake Coley and Grace Awards, along with several scientists and a pharmaceutical company whose dedication to cancer immunotherapy research and to CRI has helped to make possible better treatment options for cancer patients.

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Honorees and presenters at the 33rd Annual CRI Awards Dinner. From left to right: (front) Jill O'Donnell-Tormey, Ellen Puré, Nina Bhardwaj, Heather Nauert, Oliver R. Grace Jr., Elizabeth Jaffee, Geoffrey Coley, and Andrew Tsai; (back) Paul Shiverick, Lawrence Samelson, Axel Hoos, Shane Crotty, and Antoni Ribas.

The evening commenced with cocktails in the Gallery, which provided breath-taking views sixty-five stories above the city. Later, guests were ushered into the main ballroom where they were greeted with a warm welcome by the evening’s master of ceremonies, Heather Nauert.

Andrew Tsai, co-chairman of the CRI Board of Trustees and a dinner co-chair, opened the program with an inspiring introduction of CRI and the scientific and philanthropic champions whose shared vision and work has led to many breakthroughs and discoveries in cancer immunotherapy. Making an appearance via pre-recorded video was CRI Scientific Advisory Council Director and 2018 Nobel Laureate James P. Allison, Ph.D., along with stage 4 melanoma survivor Sharon Belvin, who was treated successfully with a lifesaving immunotherapy drug invented by Dr. Allison and has been cancer-free for more than fifteen years. The program continued with bestowal of CRI’s highest honors upon seven scientists whose work  has helped advance the fields of immunology and cancer immunotherapy.

CRI Scientific Advisory Council Associate Director Ellen Puré, Ph.D., presented the 2019 William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic Immunology to Drs. Zelig Eshhar of the Weizmann Institute of Science; Larry Samelson of the National Cancer Institute, NIH; Brian Seed of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital; and Arthur Weiss of the University of California, San Francisco. They were honored for their independent research that has collectively contributed to the understanding of how the T cell receptor works and interacts with cancer cells. This work has provided the essential scientific building blocks required for a breakthrough type of immunotherapy known as CAR-T cell therapy. Dr. Puré spoke of the unprecedented results of these therapies in patients with blood cancers as well as the exciting potential they hold in treating solid tumors.

Dr. Puré then presented the 2019 William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Tumor Immunology to Drs. Elizabeth Jaffee of Johns Hopkins University and Antoni Ribas of the University of California, Los Angeles, for their important contributions to the development and clinical application of multiple forms of T cell-mediated cancer immunotherapy, including CAR-T cells, vaccines, and immune checkpoint blockade.

Next, CRI Scientific Advisory Council Member and CRI Clinical Investigator Nina Bhardwaj, M.D., Ph.D., presented the 2019 Frederick W. Alt Award for New Discoveries in Immunology, which CRI awards to a former CRI Irvington Postdoctoral Fellow for outstanding achievement in the field.

Shane Crotty, Ph.D., of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, received the award for his contributions to our understanding of the underlying immunology of vaccines and his elucidation of the important role of “helper” T cells in these processes.

Following a dinner intermission, Andrew Tsai returned to the stage to present the 2019 Oliver R. Grace Award for Distinguished Service in Advancing Cancer Research to GlaxoSmithKline in honor of its commitment to advancing immuno-oncology as well as its support of the Cancer Research Institute’s scientific research and patient education programs. Accepting the award on behalf of GSK was Axel Hoos, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president of oncology R&D at GSK and a member of the CRI Scientific Advisory Council.

In a break from tradition, CRI presented the Coley Award to a non-scientist. Geoffrey O. Coley, international business head at MUFG Securities, Inc., received the award for his impeccable service and commitment to CRI since joining the board in 1998. The great-grandson of Dr. William B. Coley, Mr. Coley recounted in his acceptance remarks how his formative years were spent with his great-aunt, Helen Coley Nauts, CRI’s founder and daughter of William Coley, and his father, Pete Coley, a staunch devotee to Ms. Nauts’ cause. His familial stories of cancer’s deadly grasp captured the attendees, which included his wife Ann, one of his three daughters, and several other relatives, but it was his lifelong connection to CRI and the promising breakthroughs and discoveries CRI has made possible over the last six decades that left everyone inspired and hopeful for a cure.

Closing out the evening, Paul Shiverick, CRI co-chairman of the board, presented the 2019 Oliver R. Grace Award to fellow trustee Oliver R. Grace Jr. Mr. Grace joined the board in 1992 after the death of his father, Oliver R. Grace, a close friend of Helen Coley Nauts, who combined his financial acuity and philanthropy to support the founding of CRI and guide the organization. Oliver Grace Jr., has continued his father’s work for nearly three decades as an active trustee and patron of CRI. His generosity has provided support for seminal and long-standing programs and initiatives alike that have helped further the impact of the organization.

This year’s dinner was equally heartwarming and successful, raising over $800,000 to support our research programs. We deeply appreciates the event supporters and the 2019 Awards Dinner Co-Chairs and Presenters.

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