Working as an intern alongside Dr. Don Thomas in the summer of 1971, Dr. Martin "Mac" Cheever had the opportunity to see firsthand the early, seemingly miraculous use of bone marrow transplantation, a then experimental treatment for leukemia and other blood diseases.
Just as the Hutchinson Center's founders showed the world that blood cancers could be conquered, Cheever hopes to help the Center do the same for solid tumors. He is working to create, in partnership with the University of Washington, one of the nation's leading programs devoted to developing breakthrough treatments for breast, prostate, colorectal and other solid tumor cancers.
"Our main mission is to provide treatment options that are not available elsewhere because they are developed from the unique science at the Hutchinson Center and the UW," said Cheever, who is also a professor of medicine and associate director of medical oncology at UW. "There are a number of areas, such as immune-based therapy, in which we have the world's top scientific programs and, therefore, the potential to offer cancer patients therapies based on this research."
Cheever is working to move cutting-edge science out of the lab and into the clinic, where it will be made available to cancer patients enrolled in clinical studies, a process known as translational research. Among the most promising treatments being developed at the Center are those collectively known as immunotherapy. The approach is based on harnessing the innate cancer-fighting properties of the immune system through antibodies, disease-fighting T-cells and—Cheever's own area of expertise—cancer vaccines.
Cheever is internationally recognized for his contributions to cancer immunotherapy. He was part of the Center research group that made seminal contributions to the field of T-cell therapy, which relies on tumor-fighting cells of the immune system. He mentored younger scientists who have successfully translated their laboratory work into treatments. Cheever was also one of the key developers of the anti-lymphoma drug Bexxar.
In 1997, he left academic research to co-found a Seattle biotechnology company. There, he oversaw the development of cancer vaccines designed to prevent the recurrence of cancer in patients after treatment, two of which are now being tested in clinical trials. More recently, Cheever has served as a consultant to the National Cancer Institute, providing strategic direction for translational research and urging the prioritization and funding of immunotherapy efforts. He is also developing an early stage clinical trials program to help jumpstart potential therapies.
Cheever sees his role as both exciting and challenging. "The development and testing of new drugs to treat cancers is a pressing national and global need," he said. "As our team evaluates the promise of new cancer therapies through early stage clinical trials, those efforts will also hasten the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry's development of cancer drugs and therapy regimens. There's enormous potential."