The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, created with a $250 million grant from the Parker Foundation, will focus on accelerating progress in the breakthrough field that helps the immune system attack cancers.
“By bringing institutions with different strengths and expertise together, providing stable funding and access to truly cutting-edge technologies, the Parker Institute empowers us to make big strides in cancer immunotherapy,” said Jim Allison, Ph.D., chair of Immunology and executive director of the immunotherapy platform — an essential component of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program to more rapidly convert scientific discoveries into life-saving advances.
Each of the six centers received initial funding of $10-15 million in the first year to establish the Parker Institute on site. This investment will continue to grow annually via additional project grants, shared resources and central funding.
Allison will serve as director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MD Anderson. The other cancer centers involved are Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford Medicine, the University of California, San Francisco, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pennsylvania.
“We are at an inflection point in cancer research and now is the time to maximize immunotherapy’s unique potential to transform all cancers into manageable diseases, saving millions of lives,” says Sean Parker, president of the Parker Foundation. “We believe that the creation of a new funding and research model can overcome many of the obstacles that currently prevent research breakthroughs. Working closely with our scientists and more than 30 industry partners, the Parker Institute is positioned to broadly disseminate discoveries and, most importantly, more rapidly deliver treatments to patients.”
The Parker Institute has chosen three areas of concentration to address issues in immunotherapy:
- Develop novel approaches to modify T cells to enhance their function and then develop a new generation of more effective T cell therapies.
- Compare patients who respond to checkpoint inhibitors, those who don’t respond and those who relapse, to improve rates of durable responses and broaden the use of these drugs alone or in combination.
- Conduct DNA sequencing, immune monitoring and antigen discovery to identify new targets for therapeutic vaccines and T cell therapies.
Five MD Anderson researchers will fully participate in the Parker Institute at MD Anderson.
Allison said others can be added and researchers also can participate on a project-by-project basis.
In addition to Allison, the team includes:
Parker Institute at MD Anderson Co-Director Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and scientific director of the immunotherapy platform. Sharma is a clinician-scientist and immunologist whose
research includes identifying and characterizing immune-stimulating molecules and checkpoints as well as understanding response and resistance to treatment.
Cassian Yee, M.D., professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology and co-leader of the adoptive cell therapy platform. Yee has developed a method for gathering white blood cells from patients through apheresis, identifying among them the T cells that attack their cancers, expanding those T cells in the lab, and giving them back to patients.
Elizabeth Mittendorf, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Breast Surgical Oncology.
Mittendorf is a surgeon and immunologist who developed therapeutic vaccines to prevent breast cancer recurrence that are being tested in Phase III clinical trials.
Jennifer Wargo, M.D., associate professor of Surgical Oncology and Genomic Medicine.
Wargo is a surgeon, immunologist and a translational scientist who has an active research laboratory focused on better understanding patient responses to cancer therapy using longitudinal tissue and blood sampling. She also leads several clinical trials testing novel approaches to improve outcomes for patients with melanoma and other cancers.