MD Anderson gets $215M in immunotherapy push
MD Anderson Cancer Center has been selected for a leading role in a new federal initiative to advance the reach of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
As part of a $215 million public-private partnership announced by the National Institutes of Health Thursday, MD Anderson will receive funding to help identify and test chemical signatures in the body that officials hope will predict which patients will benefit from immunotherapy, a new frontier of cancer treatment pioneered by the Houston research hospital’s Jim Allison.
“We have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy, often eradicating cancer completely for some cancer patients,” Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH, said in a statement. “We need to bring that kind of success — and hope — for more people and more types of cancers, and we need to do it quickly. A systematic approach like (this partnership) will help us to achieve success faster.”
The partnership is the first initiative announced under the Trump administration involving the Cancer Moonshot, the federal effort to accelerate cancer research initiated by President Barack Obama and led by Vice President Joe Biden.
Dramatic responses from immunotherapy followed Allison’s discovery that a protein on the immune system acts as a brake instead of an accelerator. He subsequently developed a drug to free the brake, unleashing the immune system to attack the cancer. The breakthrough revitalized the field and led to the identification of other brakes and development of other drugs. Suddenly, a subset of patients with cancers that typically kill in less than a year began beating the disease. However, a majority of patients do not yet benefit from the approach.
Under the new initiative, MD Anderson will get $11 million over five years to conduct tumor analysis and immune monitoring in immunotherapy clinical trials conducted by multiinstitutional networks. Such analysis and monitoring aims to identify biomarkers that could guide future treatment.
“We want to improve immune monitoring to better understand the mechanisms that lead tumors to respond to or resist treatment so we can develop new, better strategies for patients,” said Dr. Ignacio Wistuba, MD Anderson’s chair of translational molecular pathology and the principal investigator of its piece of the partnership.
The NIH is providing $160 million of the funding and 11 pharmaceutical companies are contributing $1 million a year over five years. The companies are AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene Corporation, Genentech, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen/ Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Pfizer.
MD Anderson is one of four centers selected to conduct tumor analysis and monitoring. The others are Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Stanford Cancer Institute in California and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.