Robert Ferris, MD, on Immunotherapy Transforming Cancer Treatment

November 13, 2019
Robert Ferris, MD
Robert Ferris, MD

Robert Ferris, MD, from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, discusses the 34th Annual Meeting & Pre-Conference Programs of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC 2019), and how immunotherapy will continue to transform cancer treatment.

Robert Ferris, MD, from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, discusses the 34th Annual Meeting & Pre-Conference Programs of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC 2019), and how immunotherapy will continue to transform cancer treatment. 

 

Transcript:

I’ve been attending the plenary session by Dr. Ron Germaine and Dr. Finn won the Smalley award and the presidential session today with some promising young investigators.

Dr. Finn is really a giant of cancer immunology, in particular cancer immune-prevention. She received the Smalley award and gave us a couple of decades of target and vaccinating for cancer prevention. Dr. Ron Germaine has contributed to basic immunology and our understanding of triggering the immune response. And he has moved more into systems biology, trying to integrate 30, 40, 50 markers, tissue imaging in tumors in situ, and cautioning us not to get too far ahead with some of the single cell technologies and to recognize the way lymphocytes are laid out and move their ability to get around in the tumor. The infrastructure of a tumor may affect the quality of success of an immune response, So, as typical for someone of his contributions, it was really a mind-blowing presentation phenomenal video, very insightful. He continues to contribute to our understanding of immunology.

Junior investigators in the presidential symposium were really outstanding and gave us some amazing work into the microbiome. A scientist in training from Wake Forest talked about the CD47 thrombospondent pathway and how that “eat me” or “don’t eat me” signal that cells have and tumor cells can modulate may impact the immune response to cancer. So, really some amazing work and we see the next generation coming with a very potent and informative stance as well. A great credit to SITC in identifying these junior folks, and a credit to their mentors as well.

I’ve been coming to this meeting for over 15 years. I was here and one of the organizers 10 or 12 years ago when they were about 400 or 500 attendees. It is now 10-fold bigger. So, my hope is that is it is not another 1,000 people. One thing I like about this meeting is its collegiality, so hopefully it doesn’t get too impersonal. I think a year from now, SITC has added the early-phase clinical trials, so it has been a nice addition bridging what AACR or ASCO have done. The relationship with NCI, the FDA, pharma, as well as translational and clinical scientists, it can only happen at SITC. There is no other meeting where this occurs. And I think that explains this huge influx in membership and attendees. Even though I tease a little bit that it can be getting too big, I think next year is likely to be a continuation of the trend, drawing in folks who have not gotten up every day thinking about immunology for years but now understand and recognize that they need to. SITC is really the form for transmitting information, basic mechanisms, biomarkers, and now clinical data from exciting clinical trials.

 

We really do feel like immunotherapy has the potential to cure so hopefully we will add safe, but effective combinations of immunotherapy. Obviously the PD-1 inhibitors with or without a CTLA-4 inhibitor have been the most effective as monotherapy or combinations. I think we’re all still waiting for that next big breakthrough, the next big leap forward, whether it is immune checkpoints or inflammatory agonists or other combinations for where immunotherapy will transform cancer treatment.