The Sentinel


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

President's Message - October 2018

Dear Colleagues,

On Oct. 3, I was thrilled to hear the news that my friend and colleague, James P. Allison, PhD, was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Tasuku Honjo, MD, PhD. As most of you know, Dr. Allison and Prof. Honjo (also both SITC Smalley Award recipients) are pioneers in the field of immune checkpoint blockade therapy, which has become a foundational component of cancer treatment across the globe. What a wonderful acknowledgement of the impact in our field to patients, and for the contributions of these two scientific world leaders.

Here in Pittsburgh, the sky is a bit grey, there is a cool breeze, and the trees are starting to change color. This can mean only one thing: the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer’s (SITC) 33rd Annual Meeting & Pre-Conference Programs (SITC 2018) are coming soon!

Our society’s Annual Meeting is the perfect gathering place for early career scientists. This fall, SITC will give out 33 young investigator awards – four presidential and 29 abstract travel awards – honoring some of the brightest young minds in the field. This year’s recipients are below. At SITC 2018, in addition to the Workshop on Nutrition, Metabolism and the Microbiome in Cancer Therapy, there will be great opportunities for abstract author networking during poster hall presentations on Nov. 9 and 10, or in small group discussions during the Meet-the-Expert Lunch and Grant Writing Workshop. The Meet-the-Expert Lunch connects young investigators to leaders in cancer immunotherapy to discuss topics most relevant to their careers. SITC is expanding this in-person program into a series of webinars throughout the year. SITC will host the first webinar on “How to Survive in Academia.”

The young investigators of SITC Sparkathon Class of 2017, Teams TimIOs and METIOR Incubator, are preparing to present their project updates during the 33rd Annual Meeting. I was happy to kick off proceedings for the 28 young investigators of SITC Sparkathon Class of 2018 during their retreat in Chicago, Sept. 12-14, 2018. The winning project from these early career scientists will be announced soon. Learn more about the 2018 Class’s project in The Node, a SITC booth dedicated to early career scientists during the 33rd Annual meeting. You can support the SITC Sparkathon through a contribution to the Forward Fund.

Also upcoming, SITC will host a co-sponsored workshop with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Immune-modified Response Criteria in Cancer Immunotherapy Clinical Trials. This free, innovative workshop, scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, prior to the 33rd Annual Meeting, is another step forward for SITC as we positively leverage relationships with organizations and governmental agencies to incite progress in the field. More details on this workshop are provided further below.

I am excited about a new education program from SITC early next year. The SITC Winter School, scheduled for Feb. 18-22, 2019, in Mesa, Ariz. This five-day program will teach core principles of the field and focus on multiple topics including biomarker technology, clinical trial design, grant writing and have discussion sessions. Click here to learn more about this important program and register.

In August, SITC launched a new series of online communities created exclusively for SITC members. These SITC Professional Interest Communities, including clinical and post-doctoral trainees, graduate students and international young investigators, allow members to discuss topics relevant to their research and in their careers, to build relationships with colleagues and solve hurdles in the field. Click here to learn more about the SITC Professional Interest Communities.

With all of these opportunities for young investigators, the future of the field is in a good place.


Lisa H. Butterfield, PhD
SITC President

Thursday, September 6, 2018

President's Message - September 2018

Dear Colleagues,

While I hope that you all have been enjoying a little slow down during this summer, I want you to know that the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) never sleeps! SITC’s membership has for the first time exceeded 2,000 members, and we are working to ensure our members’ voice is heard by policymakers in our nation’s capital throughout the year. During the past months, SITC has increased its efforts in the policy and advocacy realm. We have added staff dedicated to managing these complex interactions and continued to work with the consulting firm, Cornerstone Government Affairs, LLC, to support our viewpoints in Washington, D.C.

Recently, the SITC Board of Directors helped to define and expand the efforts of our society’s Policy and Advocacy Committee by adding three subcommittees. These subcommittees will conduct work and report on three distinct areas of the field: science and research, regulatory and quality.

This group has made great progress on a number of issues in the past year, including:

SITC also continues to strengthen relationships with partnering organizations.

SITC is pleased to partner with Friends of Cancer Research (FOCR) to address critical issues regarding the value of immunotherapy and immuno-oncology agents. Through this collaboration, SITC and FOCR will review current value models and provide guidance on redefining value frameworks for the unique aspects of cancer immunotherapy. This effort will ensure patients and healthcare professionals have the appropriate information to make informed treatment decisions and have access to high-quality treatment options.

SITC is working with the FDA to provide education to employees on critical aspects of cancer immunotherapy research while also collaborating strategically to positively affect the future of the field. We met with FDA leaders July 18 to discuss several initiatives of common interest and will return to the FDA campus on Sept. 17 to give FDA OCE Rounds. These visits will be regular events going forward to keep our interactions effective and timely.

Cancer immunotherapy has to evolve on all fronts to have the optimal impact on patients. The work of SITC’s policy committee and our FDA collaborations will address important aspects of the field that compliment all of the work you are all doing in your labs, clinics and offices.


Lisa H. Butterfield, PhD
SITC President

Thursday, August 2, 2018

President's Message - August 2018

Dear Colleagues,

Cancer immunotherapy education is important even in the summertime. The FDA continues to grant immunotherapeutic approvals in new disease states, as well as integrate tumor biomarker status into indications. The most recent examples of approvals include pembrolizumab for PD-L1-positive cervical cancer patients and combination nivolumab and ipilimumab for patients with MSI-H/dMMR-positive colorectal cancer.

Therefore, Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) will soon begin the sixth year of its Advances in Cancer Immunotherapy™ (ACI) series. These regional education programs based in academic medical centers and in online education provide opportunities for healthcare professionals – particularly those in the community setting – to get up to date on immunotherapy and discuss patient management.  SITC will host 15 ACI programs throughout the United States and Canada during the 2018-19 series featuring disease-specific sessions on lung cancer, melanoma, head and neck cancers, genitourinary cancers and hematologic malignancies. These 4.5-hour programs are CME-, CNE- and CPE-certified programs presented by the local experts in tumor immunology and cancer immunotherapy. Clinicians, students and patient advocates may attend for free. Note that registration is now open for the ACI in Madison, Wis. (Sept. 6, 2018) and Boston, Mass. (Sept. 27, 2018) (we’ll continue to announce future dates and locations). The Sept. 6 ACI will also be live streamed, so you can attend from wherever you are!

On July 17, SITC published the highly anticipated, “The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer consensus statement on immunotherapy for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC),” the society’s sixth manuscript of the series, in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer (JITC), the society’s open access, peer-reviewed online journal. The guideline includes recommendations on treatment scheduling concerning the most recent U.S. FDA-approved immunotherapies, a discussion about late-breaking data from 2018, the use of predictive biomarkers including PD-L1 and tumor mutational burden and managing immune-related adverse events. A big thank you and congratulations to the SITC Cancer Immunotherapy Guidelines NSCLC Subcommittee, chaired by Roy Herbst, MD, PhD (Yale Cancer Center), and co-chaired by Julie Brahmer, MD (Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins), Ramaswamy Govindan, MD (Washington University School of Medicine), and Naiyer Rizvi, MD (Columbia University Medical Center), for this important contribution to the field.

SITC will host a one-hour, free webinar on Thursday, Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. EDT, featuring members of the NSCLC Subcommittee. This webinar will review the guidelines and provide a unique Q&A forum between participants and faculty.

Lastly, SITC is about to announce a new educational initiative that I am particularly excited about, the “2019 SITC Winter School.” Planned for February 2019 in Phoenix, Ariz., SITC Winter School will educate early career scientists and physicians about the core principles of cancer immunotherapy, biomarker technologies, clinical trial design, grant writing and more, over an intensive and interactive five-day program.

I hope that you all enjoy the rest of your summer.  It’s a great time to catch up on all things immunotherapy!

Lisa H. Butterfield, PhD
SITC President

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

JITC Earns Impact Factor of 8.374

The impact factor is a critically important calculation involving the number of citations published articles received during a two-year timeline. Thus, this figure readily communicates to prospective authors the relative reach and quality of research a publication possesses.

Even before the publication of its impact factor, awareness of JITC had reached new heights in 2018, as submissions had already increased by 65 percent over last year. We know our 8.374 impact factor is merely a starting point from which JITC will grow in sync with the steady expansion of research and translation in the field of immuno-oncology. The number of submissions will multiply; the quality and breadth of research will increase; JITC will become an even stronger open access, peer-reviewed online journal.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of JITC’s Section Editors, Associate Editors and reviewers who generously give so much of their time to ensure the journal publishes only the highest quality research in the field of cancer immunotherapy and tumor immunology.

Lastly, please take a moment to remember and celebrate the life and work of Harald von Boehmer who sadly passed away late last month. His contributions to the understanding of the T cell receptor’s key role in T cell development, differentiation, and central tolerance induction are part of the foundations of our current understanding of tumor immunology.

With best regards,
Pedro J. Romero, MD
Editor-in-Chief, Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer

Friday, June 29, 2018

President's Message - July 2018

Dear Colleagues,

Let me begin by congratulating everyone who contributed to the exciting achievement of the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer (JITC), the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer's (SITC) open access, peer-reviewed online journal, on its first impact factor of 8.374!

As many of you know, an impact factor – a calculation of the number of citations a publication's articles received in a year by the total number of articles published – quickly communicates to prospective authors the reach and quality of research a publication possesses. The JITC impact factor is the next big step toward an even brighter future for our society's online publication.

Much of the credit goes to JITC Editor-in-Chief Pedro J. Romero, MD, and the many SITC member experts who serve as section editors and reviewers on the journals' Editorial Board. However, JITC would not be what it is today – or further, what it is becoming – without the contributions from the many authors who have submitted their field-changing research to JITC.

Now, five years after our society's launch of JITC, this achievement provides significant validation to the journal as a premier destination for cancer immunotherapy research. I encourage all prospective authors in our field to submit to JITC when considering a venue for your work.

Among the most valuable of JITC's publications are the consensus statements submitted as part of the SITC Cancer Immunotherapy Guidelines. These immunotherapy treatment recommendations play a critical role in educating oncologists and other members of the patient care team on current standards involving U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved cancer immunotherapy treatments for a growing list of disease states. SITC expanded its Cancer Immunotherapy Guidelines offerings in May when it updated its recommendations on cutaneous melanoma. A manuscript on non-small cell lung cancer is slated to publish in JITC next month.

We're also disseminating these guidelines broadly to increase access. This includes a new, interactive series of SITC Cancer Immunotherapy Guidelines Webinars. These live events will take place approximately two months after manuscript publication and will allow authors to go further in-depth about the treatment recommendations, answer questions and discuss any late-breaking advances in the field since publication.

The first SITC Cancer Immunotherapy Guidelines Webinar will take place Monday, July 30, 6–7 p.m. EDT, focusing on the recent update of the guidelines for cutaneous melanoma. Click here to register for this free opportunity.

The need for ongoing education for clinicians about the latest advancements in immunotherapy for cancer has never been greater. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology's (ASCO) 2018 Annual Meeting, SITC staff fielded numerous questions from attendees, and served as a resource to many visitors of our society's booth at ASCO 2018. If you would like to review highlights of the meeting, SITC published daily scientific reports from the ASCO Annual Meeting, log in to your SITC CONNECT account to access our staffreports from each day of the meeting.

In closing, as you enjoy a little lull in your scientific activities over the summer, and write up the results of your recent studies, I hope you will send those data to JITC, where the new 8.374 impact factor will assure great exposure to your colleagues.


Lisa H. Butterfield, PhD
SITC President

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Staying Alive: My IO Journey

by Jacqueline Smith

On Nov. 29, 2006, during the first semester of my graduate school program, I learned the disease I thought I had beat three years prior had, again, reared its ugly head. I was devastated. The lump I had detected in my bikini line almost a year-and-a-half earlier was not the inflamed lymph node that my gynecologist assured me it was, and it was not the result of some minor infection that my primary care provider’s assistant diagnosed. It was a lymph node filled with cancer.

Upon my diagnosis three years earlier, I was advised by my then oncologist to “watch and wait” because the treatments at that time were highly toxic causing debilitating and irreparable long-term damage. However, this time, watch and wait was not an option.

Jacqueline Smith
I returned to my parent’s home in Orlando, Fla. I visited a number of doctors and specialists. On Dec. 21, 2006, I was told it would be a miracle if I survived another five years. Needless to say, I spent the holiday season drowning in self-pity and worry mixed with anger and resentment.

Though none of us know when we will reach the end, most live everyday with the promise and hope for a new day. However, receiving a cancer diagnosis quickly forces one to face their mortality.
Fortunately, with the New Year came new resolve. I was not going to abandon my dreams. I was not going to let this disease consume every aspect of my life. I decided to fight. I began to research every aspect of melanoma: the disease, surgeries, treatments, treatment centers and specialists.

Every doctor whom I contacted recommended I seek treatment at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. It was there I was given hope. My surgical oncologist stated that while he could not determine my life expectancy, if I did not have the cancerous lymph nodes removed, there was a high possibility that cancer (melanoma) would kill me. He also expressed hope that I would qualify for a clinical trial.

On March 29, 2007, I had a total right groin lymphadenectomy. It was then that Dr. Vernon Sondak alerted me to a newly opened clinical trial. It was then that I learned what immunotherapy was and decided to rest my fate in its hands.

I became one of the first enrollees in the PEG-Intron trial. For the first three months, I had to go to Moffitt daily, for blood draws. I learned to mix and self-administer the Pegylated interferon. I was encouraged to learn this treatment was less harsh than chemotherapy. I was thankful that I would be able to an outpatient during my care.

Most importantly, I no longer thought about my mortality, but rather focused on my treatment and the potential for being cured.

I endured surgery, PEG-Intron therapy and four months of radiation.

Today, 10 years later, I am thankful to say I am cancer free. As my 10-year, cancer-free survival is due, in part, to the success of an immunotherapy clinical trial, I have decided to dedicate my life to working toward establishing immunotherapy as a standard of care for all cancer patients.

I am now the Policy and Advocacy Manager for the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC). At SITC, I am one of many people who work tirelessly to advance the field of immunotherapy in hopes of helping more cancer patients enjoy a better quality of life and transition from long-term cancer free survival to being cured.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cancer Immunotherapy: Simplified…

by Kushal Prajapati

In the field of cancer research, Cancer Immunotherapy, Immuno-Oncology or I-O have been buzzwords for quite a few years now. For those who are not life science professionals but actively follow the developments in the field, these may be some popular terms come across on TV, newspapers or magazines. Yet for many, including some scientists not very familiar with immunology, the understanding of how immunotherapy could treat cancer remains either elusive or a mystery. In this blog, I will try to simplify some key principles of Immuno-Oncology for anyone who has always wanted to learn more about this revolutionary field.

Our body is nature’s highly sophisticated creation equipped with a very efficient defense called the immune system. This immune system is made up of different kinds of cells, each specialized in carrying out certain tasks. One of the cell types, known as killer T cells, can identify the foreign cells/invaders in the body and kill them (yes, literally). You could think of them as the ‘soldiers’ of your body who know how to find intruders and neutralize them. In Immuno-Oncology, scientists use these T cells to recognize and kill cancer cells. But wait…cancer cells are your own cells, not foreigners, right? Why would T cells kill your own cells?! The answer to this lies in the fundamentals of how the T cells identify their targets.

Every healthy cell in our body needs to present a normal pattern of immunological signals, called ‘antigens’, to be accepted as ‘self’ or ‘body’s own’ by the immune system. However, when a cell incurs numerous genetic mutations and/or the biological processes within it go haywire, this pattern of antigen presentation is changed enough to label the cell as ‘foreign’ in the eyes of the immune system. This is often the case for cancer cells. T cells would then identify the abnormal antigens on cancer cells using their receptor- called T cell receptor - and get rid of these cells. But if it was this simple, then no one would ever get cancer as the T cells would keep killing the cancer cells as and when they arise. Hence, there is something that’s certainly not very efficient about this process. While we don’t completely understand the underlying reasons yet, the scientists have been able to turn the tables on cancer by strengthening the T cells’ anti-tumor activity in two major ways in the clinic so far.

The first one is chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy which enables T cells to recognize the cancer cells that are otherwise undetectable. As we talked about antigen presentation in previous paragraph, it is worth knowing that many cancer antigens exist in forms that are not recognizable by the T cell receptors. Consequently, these antigens always go undetected by the T cells. CAR was designed to overcome this limitation. It combines a part of the natural T cell receptor with a part of an antibody that can recognize a desired antigen (the one that’s unrecognizable by T cell receptor). Just like giving a new tool to a solider to spot a hidden enemy! With this technology, scientists can identify new cancer antigens invisible to the immune system, design CARs against them, and put them into our T cells to empower them to accurately kill those cancer cells.

The second approach, called the ‘check-point’ blockade, basically stops the T cells from being stopped by cancer cells. In general, T cells in our body are always on the call of duty, looking out for threats and dealing with them. In this scenario, our body has natural mechanisms in place to control the T cells from over-reacting and potentially hurting the healthy cells. One such mechanism is ‘check-point’ signaling, wherein the T cells that are over-worked show significant presence of check-point receptors like PD-1 and CTLA-4 which serve as ‘brakes’ on them. It’s when these receptors (brakes) are ‘engaged’ by the molecules called check-point ligands, the T cells slow-down their function or stop completely. This very mechanism is exploited by cancer cells to escape the immune system. They increase the engagement of the brakes (PD1, CTLA-4) on T cells by simply increasing the amounts of check-point ligands- resulting in attenuation of T cell function. To tackle this problem, researchers developed antibodies which block the interaction between check-point receptors and their ligands. This allows the T cells to continue killing cancer cells without stopping! So far, the check-point blockades of PD-1 and CTLA-4 signaling have shown resounding success in treating many cancers in the clinic.

So, do we finally have the magic bullet against cancer? Not quite yet. The clinical success of immunotherapy has been exciting; however, studies show that most patients do not respond to it if they have more aggressive, solid tumors. However, the good news is that years of research work has revealed to us biological reasons (e.g. various ways the cancer fights back against immune system) behind failure of immunotherapies in such cases. As the new treatments developed based on this knowledge make their way into the clinical trials, exciting times are waiting ahead for cancer immunotherapy! 

[Disclosure: This blog is intended to educate general public and non-experts about the basic concepts of cancer immunology and clinically available immunotherapies. The author does not intend to undermine the efforts behind other cancer immunotherapy approaches that are currently under clinical investigation]