Center News

$1.2 million Dream Team to explore 'new frontiers in immunotherapy'

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Drs. Cassian Yee, Phillip Greenberg and Stan Riddell join Stand Up to Cancer's three-year, international translational cancer research project

Dec. 17, 2012
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Three Fred Hutch researchers, Drs. Cassian Yee, Philip Greenberg and Stan Riddell of the Clinical Research Division, are among those selected to form a new international "Dream Team" of scientists who will use private funding to study adoptive T-cell therapy and the use of checkpoint inhibitors to treat cancer. The three received a total of $1.2 million for three years.

Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), announced the formation of the team on Dec. 12. Members of the "SU2C-CRI Cancer Immunology Translational Research Dream Team" will receive $10 million in funding over three years for the translational cancer research project that will unite laboratory and clinical efforts leading to the immunological treatment, control and prevention of cancer.

Yee was named a co-leader of the Dream Team and will receive $600,000 over three years. Greenberg and Riddell together will receive the same level of funding for their project. The researchers will continue their work studying the use of patients’ own T-cells that are selected for anti-tumor effects, engineered and expanded outside the body and re-infused to provide a strong anti-tumor response. Melanoma and lung cancer are among the malignancies being targeted.

Some of the work will involve enhancing those engineered T-cells with antibodies that block CTLA-4 or PD1, checkpoint inhibitors that puts the brakes on T-cells’ natural response to stop growing and reacting in the body when they are activated. This self-regulation is designed to naturally stop potential autoimmune or inflammatory consequences of the cells’ activation, particularly in the setting of chronic infections, but can severely limit potentially effective responses to tumors.

Promise of adoptive T-cell therapy, checkpoint inhibitors

"Adoptive T-cell therapy in recent years has really come into its own," Yee said. "Novel strategies to generate long-lasting, highly effective T-cells are being developed, and in combination with new immunomodulatory agents like the checkpoint inhibitors, we can potentially fully exploit the immune system to treat patients with cancer. We are so fortunate to now have the opportunity to explore these new frontiers in immunotherapy."

Team leaders are Dr. James P. Allison at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Dr. Antoni Ribas, at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Scientists on this Dream Team represent eight institutions: In addition to Fred Hutch, participating organizations include MD Anderson Cancer Center, UCLA, The Johns Hopkins University, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, California Institute of Technology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

The project is estimated to start in the spring of 2013; the first clinical trials are scheduled to open in early 2014.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.