Home Immunology New York Area Researchers Investigate Immunologic Approaches to Cancer Therapy

New York Area Researchers Investigate Immunologic Approaches to Cancer Therapy

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Infosurhoy reports that New York Presbyterian Hospital and affiliated medical schools, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College are collectively pursuing cancer research with the potential to fundamentally redefine the field. As they work on urgent investigative initiatives, they bring a sense of direct purpose to address malignancies once considered insurmountable.   This article summarizes a few important and critical initiatives including:

Naiyer A. Rizvi, MD, an internationally recognized leader in the treatment of lung cancer and immunotherapy drug development. He is the Director of the Thoracic Oncology and Immunotherapeutics in Medical Oncology at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.  Dr. Rizvi’s research of antibodies that can reinvigorate T cells to recognize lung cancer cells as foreign and destroy the cancer cells has been a major development in thoracic oncology. nivolumab (Opdivo®), which the FDA recently approved for the treatment of patients with advanced squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). “‘Groundbreaking’ and ‘revolutionary’ often overstate the case, but they truly apply to the impact of the new immunotherapy agents that target the PD-1 pathway for NSCLC by disabling the PD-1 protein on T cells and suppressing T cell activity,” says Dr. Rizvi.

While some patients with NSCLC respond well to PD-1 inhibitors, others do not. Dr. Rizvi and his colleagues thought that the cancers that had accumulated the most DNA damage were more likely to have worn out the immune system and would likely be helped the most by PD-1 inhibitors. They tested this by sequencing tumor DNA from both responders and non-responders to treatment with pembrolizumab (KEYTRUDA®), a PD-1 inhibitor. Among their findings, published in April 2015 in Science, was that patients with a great deal of DNA damage were far more responsive to treatment than those with less DNA damage.

“We were able to use advances in sequencing technology to study the entire exome – the protein-coding genes of the genome – of tumors from patients with NSCLC who were treated with pembrolizumab. We found that the more genetically damaged the tumor was, the more likely the patient was to respond to PD-1 inhibitors. This is an important first step toward being able to predict who will respond to PD-1 inhibitors and could be a new way to think about precision medicine based on the sequencing of tumor DNA,” says Dr. Rizvi. “This collaboration among clinical researchers, geneticists, and immunologists shows how a team of scientists can work together to help patients fight cancer.”

In October 2015, KEYTRUDA – following a multicenter trial of 280 patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer received accelerated FDA approval for the treatment patients whose tumors express PD-L1 with disease progression on or after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Silvia C Formenti, MD, Radiation Oncologist-in-Chief at New York-Presbyterian/ Weill Cornell Medical Center and Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine, is an international expert in the use of radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer and a recognized leader in radiation oncology and breast cancer research.

Dr. Formenti’s groundbreaking work has transformed the paradigm in radiation biology, demonstrating the efficacy of combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy to control cancer cell growth in solid tumors. She has translated preclinical work into clinical trials in metastatic breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma, and has opened a new field of application for radiotherapy, whereby localized radiation can be used as an adjuvant to immunotherapy of solid tumors and lymphomas.

“Combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy is exquisitely interdisciplinary work, leveraging the most modern integration of pathology, imaging, surgery, medical oncology, and radiation oncology,” Dr. Formenti says. Under Dr. Formenti’s leadership, scientists in the Department of Radiation Oncology are conducting high-impact basic, clinical, and translational research, and, radiobiological research, exploring the effects of ionizing radiation on tumor and normal tissue with findings translated into preclinical models that can lead to improved, personalized patient care.

Follow the link to learn more about funding sources, and other activities.

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