Cancer Center at BIDMC announces launch of new Immunotherapy Institute

The Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) today announced the launch of a new clinical and research institute that will build on BIDMC's long history of leadership in immunotherapy and cell therapeutics. The Immunotherapy Institute will harness the potential of immunotherapy as it revolutionizes the way cancer and ultimately other diseases are treated and diagnosed.

The Immunotherapy Institute, part of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is led by Co-Director David Avigan, MD, Co-Director David McDermott, MD, and Deputy Director Jacalyn Rosenblatt, MD. The institute will foster research, educational initiatives and faculty development that will accelerate the delivery of immunotherapies to patients.

"The Immunotherapy Institute will help us not only improve upon the standard of care, but reach our goal of the 'Standard of Cure' in cancer care and research," said Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute at BIDMC. "This new enterprise is a vital addition to BIDMC's unique cancer research platform and helps us march aggressively toward ultra-personalized cancer medicine."

In recent years the field of immunotherapy has achieved remarkable results in treating a growing number of cancers including colon, blood, breast, kidney and skin cancers. Unlike chemotherapy and radiation – which indiscriminately kill both healthy and cancerous cells, causing well-known side effects – immunotherapy engages patients' natural defense systems to help identify and selectively attack cancer cells while minimizing toxicity to vital tissues.

With BIDMC already an international leader in this transformative field, the Immunotherapy Institute's core mission is to advance the understanding of cancer immunotherapy and to quickly translate this new knowledge into therapies for patients. The Immunotherapy Institute is already making a dramatic impact on scientific discovery and advancing patient care with its hallmark integration of clinical and translational research.

By combining cells from patients' tumors with powerful immune educating cells known as dendritic cells, Avigan, Rosenblatt and colleagues developed an internationally recognized personalized cancer vaccine program. In a series of clinical trials in patients with blood cancers, vaccines developed at BIDMC induced anti-tumor immune responses, disease regression and protection from relapse in patients with certain blood cancers. Based on these promising findings, BIDMC committed to broaden access to this unique technology to patients throughout the country: Avigan, Rosenblatt and team are now leading a first-of-its-kind clinical trial supported by the National Institutes of Health, involving 17 cancer centers nationwide.

The soon-to-be operational Randi and Brian Schwartz Family Cancer Immunotherapy and Cell Manipulation Facility at BIDMC will be central to the Immunotherapy Institute's leadership in the field. The new laboratory will allow the institute to expand its vaccine work to additional cancers and to develop cutting-edge technologies, including CAR T-cell therapy. Recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), CAR T-cell therapy involves re-engineering a patient's own immune cells to recognize and attack tumors.

"The idea of using the immune system as a way of developing better and curative therapies is an incredible motivator for all of us," said Avigan, who is also Section Chief of the Hematologic Malignancies, Cell Therapy and Bone Marrow Transplant Program at BIDMC and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "It's incredibly powerful to bring together a community of scientists, clinicians, translational researchers, patients and families with the shared goal of improving patient outcomes."

The Immunotherapy Institute forges collaboration among clinical investigators and basic scientists from across BIDMC with a wide spectrum of specialties and interests that interface with the mission of the institute, building a community primed for discovery and innovation. Relevant specialties include radiology, pathology, virology and vaccine research.

"We've been leaders developing immunotherapies at BIDMC for more than 20 years," said McDermott, who also leads the Biologics Program at BIDMC and is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "We plan to capitalize on the excitement around immunotherapies and infuse new energy and resources into our research and into our clinical care of patients."

In addition to the personalized vaccines against blood cancers pioneered by Avigan and Rosenblatt, BIDMC researchers have studied the use of interleukin-2 (IL2) – a molecule naturally produced by the immune system – as a treatment against metastatic renal cell carcinomas under the leadership of McDermott. He and colleagues also led critical trials demonstrating that antibodies blocking the negative checkpoints, PD-1 and CTLA-4, are effective in select patients with advanced kidney cancer and melanoma – work that led to FDA approval of these agents and new hope for thousands of patients.

The institute will also play a role in educating the next generation of researchers and clinicians through Continuing Medical Education (CME) training for the physicians and caregivers within the BIDMC Cancer Center and also for the greater community beyond – ultimately with the same important goal: to improve patient care.

"The Immunotherapy Institute will help BIDMC collaborate with investigators throughout the country and the world, allowing us to learn from each other on a much broader scale," said Rosenblatt, who is also Medical Director of the Schwartz Cancer Immunotherapy and Cell Manipulation Facility at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "The creation of this institute facilitates scientific collaboration and will foster the education of trainees who will play a vital role in moving immunotherapy forward."

"This new institute brings the promise of immunotherapy directly to patients," said Manuel Hidalgo, MD, PhD, Director of the Leon V. & Marilyn L. Rosenberg Clinical Cancer Center at BIDMC. "The Institute will speed our ability to transform care for not only our patients here at BIDMC but ultimately for patients around the world."

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