The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of immunotherapies for all forms of cancer, unveiled today the inaugural cohort of scientists chosen for the CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program (Scientists Taking Risks). Each STAR will receive a grant of $1.25 million payable over five years to carry out work that has potential to produce transformative leaps forward in tumor immunology research and ultimately lead to improved outcomes for patients treated with cancer immunotherapy. This long-term funding is not tied to specific research projects, but rather provides a degree of flexibility and freedom for investigators to explore out-of-the-box and disruptive avenues of research.
“The highly competitive CRI STAR program supports extremely gifted immunologists whose imaginations and capabilities outpace the incremental thinking that is dominating research and drug development in immuno-oncology today,” said Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., CEO, and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute. “While step changes are necessary to extend the benefits of existing immunotherapies to broader patient populations, it’s the high-risk, high-reward ideas that have the most potential to help the field truly break through to the next great advances.”
CRI announced the first five STARs today at CRI’s “Immuno-Oncology: A Future Look” event for healthcare investment analysts and media, which was held at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City, one of several educational events hosted by CRI as part of its celebration of the seventh annual Cancer Immunotherapy Month. This year’s grantees include:
- Yvonne Y. Chen, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, is seeking to build better CAR T cells that can prevent cancer antigen escape, overcome immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment, and target cancer cells based on markers that they express internally rather than on their surface.
- Amanda W. Lund, Ph.D., of Oregon Health & Science University, aims to develop a better understanding of how the lymphatic vessels influence immune responses against tumors as well as strategies that can exploit those insights to improve immunotherapy’s effectiveness.
- Alexander Marson, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, is using sophisticated genome editing tools to discover genetic programs that could be “installed” in T cells in order to improve their ability to recognize cancer cells and eliminate tumors.
- Andrea Schietinger, Ph.D., of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is employing sophisticated high-throughput technologies to understand the molecular and epigenetic programs and factors that dictate T cell dysfunction in solid tumors to ultimately develop strategies that can overcome these hurdles.
- Gregory F. Sonnenberg, Ph.D., of Weill Cornell Medicine, plans to precisely define the relationship between bacteria, the immune system, and cancer in order to gain insights into the factors that support tumor growth as well as pathways through which immunotherapies might be able to enhance immune responses against tumors.
CRI named this program in honor of Lloyd J. Old, M.D., the “Father of Modern Tumor Immunology,” who served as CRI’s founding scientific and medical director from 1971 to 2011. Just as Old was near prescient in his ability to identify and cultivate scientific talent—he handpicked and mentored generations of immunologists and tumor immunologists around the world—the CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program also aims to identify and fund highly promising scientists whose outstanding bodies of work have charted them on a course to become future “stars” in the field of cancer immunology.
The CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program Selection Committee comprises:
- Carl F. Nathan, M.D., (STAR Committee Chair), Chairman, Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology, Weill Cornell Medicine
- James P. Allison, Ph.D., Chair of Immunology, Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform, Deputy Director for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers, and Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and 2018 Nobel Laureate
- Glenn Dranoff, M.D., Global Head of Immuno-Oncology, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research
- Ellen Puré, Ph.D., Chair, Dept. of Biomedical Sciences and Director, Penn Vet Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania
- Robert D. Schreiber, Ph.D., Director, Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs and Professor, Dept. of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine
- Giorgio Trinchieri, M.D., Director, Cancer, and Inflammation Program, Head, Cancer Immunobiology Section, and NIH Distinguished Investigator, National Cancer Institute