UPMC Video Rounds - Immunotherapy

July 17, 2020


Jason Luke, MD, director, Cancer Immunotherapeutics Center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center: 

So cancer immunotherapy is really a different way in thinking about cancer treatment, relative to how we've thought about it historically with surgery or radiation or chemotherapy. And really what I mean by that is, with immunotherapy, we're trying to harness the patient's own body, meaning their natural immune response, to recognize cancer and to go after it.  

So cancer immunotherapy research at UPMC and University of Pittsburgh is quantitatively different than at some other, most other, cancer centers. Really what I mean by that is the connection between translational and basic science, to a very large number of patients being treated in standard of care practice. And what that allows us to do is to bring to bare research techniques off of biospecimens, such as blood or tumor specimens, from a very large number of patients to try to study them to examine for existence, reasons why the treatment didn't work, or resistance mechanisms, and that might tell us what's a biomarker to select patients, or maybe for me, what's really exciting is what was the reason why and could we develop a new drug for that.

So whereas in many centers, they're studying patients and maybe ten patients, or a hundred patients, at UPMC, through the University of Pittsburgh, we have the capacity to study thousands of patients, and that will really give us an ability to look for patterns that other people are not going to see in smaller numbers of patients treated. 

We sometimes say that we really want to study failure first to tell us what might be next, to expand the horizon of who might benefit from immunotherapy. At this point in the field, it's fairly clear which patients are more likely to benefit, but I think the more important question is why do the vast majority not benefit, and what are we gonna do about that. 

Through the cancer immunotherapy program at UPMC, we really have a great opportunity to study very large populations of patients, take the information that we can learn from the translational application of our science to those large populations, and then turn that into drug targets, that could be further explored through biotechnology drug development, and then bring those same molecules then back to our patients in sort of a loop, which allows us to treat our patients the best that they can have for the standard of care, but learn from them, develop new things through the laboratory, bring them through the process of drug development and then go back to those patients.

And very few places have the capacity, just the bandwidth, of clinical medicine, let alone the translational science and the support it would take to turn those into drugs to really make that happen. 

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