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CICON18 Preview: Translating Science into Survival

September 26, 2018

Immune-based treatments—known collectively as immunotherapy—have begun to revolutionize the way we treat cancer. They’ve helped people with advanced cancers that don’t respond to any other treatment and in some cases have proven more effective than chemotherapy when substituted as a first-line option. Early evidence even suggests that some are beneficial in early stage disease.

While the immune system’s power against cancer is now widely acknowledged, its full potential hasn’t yet been realized, and as a result, most patients don’t benefit from current immunotherapy approaches. Remedying that will require a deeper understanding of the relationship between cancer and the immune system as well as the development of improved immunotherapy strategies.

To address those challenges, renowned experts from around the world will be meeting this weekend for the fourth International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference (CICON18), which will take place from September 30 to October 3, 2018 at the Marriot Marquis in New York City.

The event—co-hosted by the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT), and European Academy of Tumor Immunology (EATI)—boasts a diverse roster of basic researchers, oncology doctors, and clinical drug developers, among others. They’ll highlight the latest breakthroughs in the field and discuss how these insights can be turned into improved treatments for patients. The meeting’s theme—“Translating Science Into Survival”—captures this spirit well.

A variety of topics will be addressed throughout the four day conference, including sessions focusing on:

  • Regulating T cells and their responses to cancer will highlight strategies to target the signaling pathways that govern T cell activity against cancer and methods through which new potential targets can be identified. Emory University’s Rafi Ahmed, Ph.D. will be speaking about targeting the PD-1 immune checkpoint pathway to overcome T cell exhaustion, while Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Roberta Zappasodi, Ph.D., will be speaking about the rationale for combining immunotherapies that target PD-1 and GITR.
  • Tackling the tumor microenvironment will turn its attention to the other non-cancer cells—such as stromal cells, Natural killer cells, neutrophils, and dendritic cells—that populate the tumor environment and play important roles in either supporting or suppressing immune responses against cancer. Genentech’s  Shannon J. Turley, Ph.D., will be speaking about stromal cell activation in cancer immunotherapy, while Miriam Merad, M.D., Ph.D., the recipient of this year’s William B. Coley Award, will be speaking about the tumor myeloid microenvironment.
  • Genetically engineered T cells will focus on cellular immunotherapies, including CAR T cells, and how innovative strategies are being designed—in a personalized, patient-specific manner in some cases—to make them even more effective in a wider range of tumor types.  Fred Hutch’s Philip D. Greenberg, M.D., Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Michel Sadelain, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford Medicine’s Crystal Mackall, M.D., and Steven A. Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., the chief of the National Cancer Institute’s surgery branch, will all be giving talks during this session.
  • Maintenance of immune balance: effects of targeted and immune therapies will delve more deeply into the pathways that mediate effective immunotherapy responses versus those that enable resistance, in order to understand why some patients respond while others don’t. Potential factors that could be targeted to minimize side effects will also be discussed. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Patrick Hwu, M.D., will be speaking about a particular class of immunogenic cancer antigens that result from RNA editing.
  • Novel vaccine platforms and combinations will explore the use and development of personalized, patient-specific vaccines. Updates on personalized vaccine clinical trials in advanced melanoma will be provided by BioNTech’s Ugur Sahin, M.D., and Dana Farber and Harvard Cancer Center’s Catherine J. Wu, M.D., while Leiden University Medical Center’s Cornelis J. M. Melief, M.D., Ph.D., will be discussing combination immunotherapy strategies to target HPV-positive cancers.
  • Mutational analysis and predicting response to immunotherapy will dissect the factors that enable T cells to recognize and target mutated cancer antigens, as well as strategies that enable identification of the most promising targets  in individual patients. The Netherlands Cancer Institute’s Ton N. Schumacher, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Drew M. Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., Columbia University Medical Center’s Naiyer Rizvi, M.D., Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Vinod P. Balachandran, M.D., and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology’s Stephen P. Schoenberger, Ph.D., will be speaking during this session.
  • Convergence of technology and cancer immunotherapy will showcase novel tools that can help advance our understanding of tumor-immune dynamics in order to guide doctors’ decision making in the clinic and pave the way for the development of improved immunotherapy approaches. Stanford University’s Liang Chen, M.D., Ph.D., the University of Pennsylvania’s Dan Dongeun Huh, Ph.D., and Nir Hacohen, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute will be speaking during this session.
  • Microbiome and metabolism will take a look at how the bacteria in our guts as well as metabolic factors within tumors influence the immune system’s ability to carry out successful responses against cancer. The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Hassane M. Zarour, M.D., the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Jennifer A. Wargo, M.D., as well as Yasmine Belkaid, Ph.D., and Michael G. Constantinides, Ph.D., both of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be speaking during this session.

In addition to two poster sessions, which will be held on Sunday and Tuesday, other notable events taking place throughout the conference include the William B. Coley Lecture, which will be given on Sunday by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., one of the recipients of this year’s award; the Keynote presentation, which will be given on Monday morning by Ignacio Melero, M.D., Ph.D., of the Universidad de Navarra. Also on Monday, Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., the Cancer Research Institute’s chief executive and director of scientific and medical affairs, will be moderating a lunch panel featuring Nina Bhardwaj, M.D., Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, and Crystal Mackall, M.D., of Stanford Medicine.

We’ll also be providing a recap after each day of the conference, so be sure to check back on our blog for daily updates from CICON18!

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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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