The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of immunotherapies for all types of cancer, recently unveiled the inaugural cohort of scientists chosen for the CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program (Scientists Taking Risks). Each “STAR” will receive a grant of $1.25 million payable over 5 years to carry out work that has the potential to produce transformative leaps forward in tumor immunology research and ultimately lead to improved outcomes for patients treated with cancer immunotherapy. This long-term funding is not tied to specific research projects, but rather it provides a degree of flexibility and freedom for investigators to explore out-of-the-box and novel avenues of research.
CRI announced the first five STARs at its “Immuno-Oncology: A Future Look” event for health-care investment analysts and media, which was held at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City. This is one of several educational events hosted by CRI as part of its celebration of the seventh annual Cancer Immunotherapy Month.
CRI named this program in honor of Lloyd J. Old, MD, the “Father of Modern Tumor Immunology,” who served as CRI’s founding Scientific and Medical Director from 1971 to 2011. Just as Dr. Old was near prescient in his ability to identify and cultivate scientific talent—he handpicked and mentored generations of immunologists and tumor immunologists around the world—the CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program also aims to identify and fund highly promising scientists whose outstanding bodies of work have charted them on a course to become future “stars” in the field of cancer immunology.
2019 Grantees and Research Topics
Yvonne Y. Chen, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, is seeking to build better chimeric antigen receptor T cells that can prevent cancer antigen escape, overcome immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment, and target cancer cells based on markers that they express internally rather than on their surface.
Amanda W. Lund, PhD, of Oregon Health & Science University, aims to develop a better understanding of how the lymphatic vessels influence immune responses against tumors as well as strategies that can exploit those insights to improve immunotherapy’s effectiveness.
Alexander Marson, MD, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco, is using sophisticated genome-editing tools to discover genetic programs that could be “installed” in T cells to improve their ability to recognize cancer cells and eliminate tumors.
Andrea Schietinger, PhD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is employing sophisticated high-throughput technologies to understand the molecular and epigenetic programs and factors that dictate T-cell dysfunction in solid tumors to ultimately develop strategies that can overcome these hurdles.
Gregory F. Sonnenberg, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medicine, plans to precisely define the relationship between bacteria, the immune system, and cancer to gain insights into the factors that support tumor growth as well as pathways through which immunotherapies might be able to enhance immune responses against tumors. ■