MD Anderson researchers chosen for national effort to expand reach of cancer immunotherapy

A major national effort to expand the reach of cancer immunotherapy to benefit more patients will draw upon the expertise of a team of researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

MD Anderson will provide one of four national Cancer Immune Monitoring and Analysis Centers (CIMACs) designed to conduct deep tumor analysis and immune monitoring for adult and pediatric immunotherapy clinical trials.

The centers are part of the Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT) announced today by the National Institutes of Health. The five-year, $210-million public-private partnership aims to identify and develop biomarkers to guide and improve treatments that help the immune system attack cancer. NIH leaders note that cancer immunotherapies cause dramatic improvement in some patients, a success that needs to be extended to more people and a greater variety of cancers.

The CIMACs will bring their expertise to bear on systematic collection, processing and analysis of blood and tumor samples.

"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 Ignacio Wistuba, M.D., chair of Translational Molecular Pathology and principal investigator of the center.

The MD Anderson CIMAC will receive $11 million over five years and will connect mainly with clinical trials conducted by two of the National Cancer Institute's cooperative groups – multi-institutional networks that conduct major clinical trials of new cancer drugs.

One of the challenges in developing biomarkers that can predict what treatment would be best for an individual patient is the standardization of research tools and approaches. Wistuba said the CIMACS aim to provide that standardization to optimize biomarker strategies.

"It's important to have these dedicated centers with the experience and skill to centralize and standardize this work and to conduct the analyses needed to understand how the immune system and tumors respond to treatment," Wistuba said.

Moon Shots Programexpertise for the Cancer Moonshot

The NIH effort is part of the national Cancer Moonshot, launched by former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and funded by the 21st Century Cures Act – Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot, passed by Congress last December.

Wistuba notes that MD Anderson's multidisciplinary team has honed its expertise through MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program, launched in 2012 to accelerate the development of new approaches to prevent, detect and treat cancer based on scientific discoveries.

Wistuba cited three factors that contributed to MD Anderson's successful award:

  • The Immunotherapy Platform, an immune-monitoring and research effort led by Jim Allison, Ph.D., the inventor of immune checkpoint blockade therapy.
  • The Adaptive Patient-Oriented Longitudinal Learning and Optimization APOLLO systematically compiles clinical and research data and guides the collection, processing and deep molecular and immune analysis of biopsies and blood samples before, during and after treatment to learn as much as possible from each patient. Wistuba and Andrew Futreal, Ph.D., co-lead APOLLO.
  • Additional work in the 13 individual Moon Shots and the 10 platforms of the Moon Shots Program.
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