News & Publications

Cancer Immunotherapy For All?

August 12, 2014 | Hannah Appelbaum

By age 18, Milton Wright had battled leukemia three times. Thanks to a novel cancer immunotherapy using his own T cells, he has been in remission since.♦


On many days, I speak to people by phone who have lost someone they love to cancer. Their grief is palpable. I break the silence of my sympathetic pause with a promise: I promise that we are working as hard and as quickly as we can.

I believe that we are.

When my friend tells me her Dad has brain cancer, I tell her about exciting progress in immunotherapies for brain cancer and about the clinical trial CRI is launching to study the effectiveness of a promising new checkpoint blockade therapy to treat it. I send her as many materials as I can get my hands on. When a family friend is newly diagnosed with lung cancer, I tell her there’s hope. There’s a promising trial of a combination of two immunotherapies. The same approach worked unprecedented wonders in late-stage melanoma patients (88% two year survival!). Could her mom enroll?

I believe that we are going to cure cancer. And I have no doubt that the immunotherapy research CRI has supported for over 60 years—and believed in for much longer—will be the backbone of that cure.

When I read articles like the one in the Huffington Post that went viral last week, I am comforted that Mr. Paul Sanderson’s impassioned call to “reorient the primary direction of cancer research, funding, and treatment…to immunotherapy” reads like an affirmation of the vision around which CRI was founded over 60 years ago: to ensure that “no promising aspect of cancer immunology…be jeopardized for want of adequate support or trained investigators.” I am proud that the Dr. William Coley he writes of is the father of our founder, Helen Coley Nauts.

To date, CRI remains the only nonprofit in the world dedicated exclusively to advancing the field of cancer immunology and immunotherapy. Our programs fund scientists across the continuum of research, from laboratories to clinics and from postdoctoral fellows to preeminent immunologists, who all share hope in the possibility of a cancer-free world.


We at CRI have certainly felt a dramatic (read: 300%) increase in the need for funding from scientists over just the last year.


As with any goal of this magnitude, the challenges and hurdles are many. FDA approval takes time. Budgets get cut. Discovery and development of innovative and effective treatments requires expensive, long-term investment. These challenges are not unique to immunotherapy, and they are not new. We at CRI have certainly felt a dramatic (read: 300%) increase in the need for funding from scientists over just the last year.

In many ways, the burgeoning interest in immunotherapy is validating; CRI has believed in it since the beginning, before it became the (unofficial) most likely candidate for cancer’s end game, before it was Science’s  "breakthrough of the year," back when our researchers were left to present their research to nearly empty rooms at conferences. We literally knew immunotherapy “back when….”  

CRI is funding as many promising research proposals as it can, and I often wonder how much sooner we would end cancer if more of the public’s resources were devoted to cancer immunology research. I also wonder what to do about the fact that limited patient access to promising experimental treatments is a heartbreaking concern. But together, we press on and can do far more. We continue to advance the science and improve the clinical development process that is bringing us closer than ever to a cure. We invest in smart science to de-risk product development and to drive down research and development costs. We welcome the active discussion going on between advocacy groups, government, and the pharmaceutical industry to resolve these barriers. We celebrate the growing number of lives saved. And we resolve to stay our course, believing fully not just that we can, but that we will conquer cancer in our lifetimes.

 

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