Science First: Immuno-Oncology
In the fight against cancer, one of the most powerful weapons might come from within. Immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system and boosts its natural defenses, is revolutionizing the cancer treatment paradigm. Prompting unprecedented efficacy outcomes of cancer types that once had limited treatment options—melanoma and lung cancer come to mind—tremendous progress has been made in immunotherapy and targeted cell and gene therapies. Unfortunately, despite these major strides, not all patients respond to these forms of treatment. Can combined therapies provide the necessary mechanistic insight to identify the right treatment, improve patient outcomes and speed up the drug approval process?
Driven to further an understanding of disease biology and treatment techniques, on Thursday, Nov. 17, JLABS @TMC brought together top experts to discuss the latest developments, challenges and opportunities with combination regimens.
“Let’s keep in mind what we’re looking for and what we’re after,” said Arturo Molina, M.D., vice president of oncology scientific innovation at Johnson & Johnson. “That’s to improve treatments that provide better outcomes for patients with otherwise devastating and incurable diseases.”
Entitled, “Science First: Immuno-Oncology,” the event featured representatives from Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Johnson & Johnson as they presented their latest breakthrough research and innovative discoveries.
“Our vision is really focused on the patients,” said Iqbal S. Grewal, vice president and head of immuno-oncology at Johnson & Johnson. “We want to come up with modalities to change the face of cancer, by coming up with the best diagnostics and therapeutic techniques. At the end of the day, our goal is to improve quality of life for our patients.
“Our approach is very simple,” he added. “It’s about keeping the focus on patients and their disease, first and foremost. That’s compounded by a strong belief in the importance of scientific innovation, as well as the fact that the best science emerges through collaboration.”
Afterwards, Helen E. Heslop, M.D., interim director of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, presented on the use of virus-specific T-cells as a therapeutic modality.
“Viral infections after transplant are a major cause of morbidity and mortality,” she said. “While pharmacologic therapy is available, it’s not available for all viruses, it’s expensive and there are recurrences when therapy is stopped. Because this issue is clearly related to the lack of a virus-specific T-cell response, a doctor transferring virus-specific T-cells is an attractive modality.”
Finally, John V. Heymach, M.D., Ph.D., discussed targeted therapies and immunological approaches for lung cancer.
“I think that this is going to be transformative in terms of how we treat lung cancer,” he noted. “We should keep in mind that these patients are not fully cured, but resistance is inevitably occurring.”
Following their individual presentations, the representatives engaged in a panel discussion to obtain insights into the novel immunotherapies and combination regimens of the future.
“There are a lot of ways for tumors to avoid the immune system,” said Heymach. “If you want to figure out which tumors are going to respond to immunotherapy, it’s essential to have multifactorial approaches.”
The Science First series, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, along with JLABS, aims to bring together top experts to explore pressing topics in their scientific field. Above all else, it represents a chance for local scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to present and discuss new discoveries, advancing techniques and other cutting-edge developments in the life-science ecosystem.