The Sentinel

THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE SOCIETY FOR IMMUNOTHERAPY OF CANCER (SITC).

Monday, May 4, 2020

President's Message - May 2020

Dear Colleagues,

The global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is evolving rapidly and many questions remain unanswered. The pandemic has added a great level of uncertainty to our lives and understandably for the Society’s plans and activities for at least the next several months. Nevertheless, we are actively adapting to new realities, so we can continue our basic mission to improve outcomes for cancer patients by advancing the science, development and application of cancer immunology and immunotherapy.

From witnessing events at my own institution and speaking to colleagues around the world, the pandemic has disrupted or completely halted lab work for many and is significantly affecting the day-to-day management of patient care in many of our institutions. On behalf of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC), I would like to thank the countless health care workers and researchers working around the clock to overcome this pandemic.


SITC members in the nearly 50 countries where our membership extends are playing important and active roles in the response to COVID-19, lending their expertise in clinical care, clinical trial methodology and immunology.  SITC as an organization is using its comprehensive professional network and infrastructure to facilitate information exchange, particularly as it relates to the impact of COVID-19 on delivery of cancer immunotherapy and the use of immune modulators to treat COVID-19 patients. The importance of cancer research has not diminished, and we continue to advocate for our field.


In March, SITC launched a pair of open-to-the-public online communities focused solely on the coronavirus. Members and nonmembers can participate in online discussions of patient management and care as it relates to COVID-19 and considerations for basic and translational research. Access to the forums is available through With a free SITC CONNECT loginPlease consider sharing your expertise and lessons learned involving COVID-19 within these forums.


Based on preliminary observations from non-randomized clinical data, SITC recently published a statement calling for expanded access to anti-IL-6/IL-6R therapies for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer (JITC). The statement was co-authored by several of our colleagues, and encourages the pharmaceutical industry, health authorities and institutional IRBs to work creatively and collaboratively to expand access to anti-IL-6 therapies for critically ill patients with COVID-19, while waiting for results from controlled randomized trials. SITC also produced an additional publication titled, “The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer Perspective on Regulation of Interleukin 6 Signaling in COVID-19-related Systemic Inflammatory Response.” The analysis reviews additional investigational therapies that could be explored as approaches to reduce the severe and damaging inflammatory response observed during COVID-19 infection.


One of the key outstanding questions for many of our clinicians is the impact of PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibodies on the course of COVID-19 infection. At this time, there are no clear data which indicate changes to the risk-benefit ratio of immune checkpoint inhibitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are both theoretical increased risks (for example, hyperinflammation during infection) and potential benefits (improved clearance of the virus and lower morbidity/mortality). A summary of considerations was shared with SITC by colleagues at Genentech-Roche and has been posted here for your review.


To access all of the COVID-19-related resources from our society, and those from other reputable sources, please visit SITC’s COVID-19 resources webpage to track the latest news, participate in online discussions and more.


SITC leadership remain as committed as ever to achieving our society’s strategic goals. This is why I ask that if you have ever considered joining the SITC family (or if you have not yet renewed your membership for 2020), please do so now. COVID-19 is affecting our organization in many ways, and I know SITC and its members will come out of this stronger than ever.  We greatly appreciate your commitment to our society and the support your membership provides to SITC in these difficult times.


As part of the benefits of a membership, SITC recently made available to its members free access to enduring materials from the Cancer Immunotherapy Winter School, hosted this past January in Houston. The program, in its second year, provided attendees with a deep understanding of the core principles of tumor immunology and cancer immunotherapy and examined developing areas in the field. SITC also provides free access to dozens of online courses for patients, clinicians and researchers. Please visit SITC Cancer Immunotherapy connectED, our society’s online education portal, to engage with the society and continue learning from the comforts of your home.


Finally, SITC will soon commence its 2020 election to choose the future leaders of our society. Beginning May 6–20, SITC regular and emeritus members current in their dues will cast their votes for our next Vice President, Secretary/Treasurer and three At-Large Directors. I would like to thank this year’s candidates and those completing their terms later this year (including Secretary/Treasurer Kim A. Margolin, MD; as well as At-Large Directors Paolo Antonio Ascierto, MD; David Kaufman, MD, PhD; and Douglas G. McNeel, MD, PhD). SITC’s future is bright and in good hands with my colleague and friend, Patrick Hwu, MD, set to assume role of SITC President in January. Continue reading this month’s Immune Monitor for a complete listing of the 2020 SITC Election candidates.


Thank you all for the many ways you are positively affecting patient outcomes during these uncertain times. I wish you the best of health and happiness and look forward to seeing you at a future SITC program.


Sincerely,





















Mario Sznol, MD
SITC President

Friday, April 17, 2020

JITC Letter from the Editor - April 2020


Dear JITC Readers,

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge almost all aspects of daily life, JITC remains unwavering in our commitment to publishing the very best that the immunotherapy field has to offer. Although SARS-CoV-2 is radically changing how we as a community care for our patients and conduct our research, you can count on JITC as a constant source for new findings and important insights from across the spectrum of immuno-oncology. 

This month, the JITC digest offers several papers that develop intriguing strategies to boost antitumor immune responses. Jahangir Ahmed and colleagues engineered a replication-competent oncolytic vaccinia virus that delivers IL-12 to the tumor microenvironment, prolonging survival and controlling lung metastases when administered as an adjuvant to surgical excision in mouse models. Modulation of the tumor microenvironment also synergized with checkpoint blockade in a paper by Lucas A. Horn et al., where combined inhibition of TGF-beta and IL-8 signaling attenuated epithelial to mesenchymal transition in models of both breast and lung cancer. Additionally, Yong Li and colleagues revealed a key role in signaling through the innate immune danger-recognition sensor RIG-I in the development of interferon resistance in melanoma tumor-regenerating cells, identifying STAT3 as a potential therapeutic target. 

Also this month, in a paper that will surely prove reassuring, Nicholas Bevins and colleagues rigorously analyzed the impact of different methods of calculating tumor mutational burden and found good correlation between approaches. 

Finally, be sure not to miss an outstanding review by Lorenzo Galluzzi et al. that delivers a thorough overview of immunologic cell death with detailed discussions of the biological mechanisms leading to the establishment of immunologic memory, the available assays to measure key phenomena, and the hurdles to overcome for translation into clinical benefit. 
Best regards,

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

To view the entire April 2020 JITC Digest, please click here

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

President's Message - March-April 2020

Dear Colleagues,

The letter below was written before the COVID-19 pandemic transformed our lives. First, I hope all of you and your families are safe. For our members involved in delivery of health care, we are grateful for your courage, sacrifice and dedication to your patients. Many in our society are likely turning their attention to research focused on the COVID pandemic and to care of COVID patients. I am aware that many of you are cooperating with your infectious disease, critical care and pulmonary colleagues to secure the resources required to take care of as many infected patients as possible.

At the urging of two of our past Presidents (Jon Wigginton, MD, and Bernard Fox, PhD), the society has already taken steps to enable our members to exchange information on the pandemic, particularly how it impacts cancer care and patients receiving anti-cancer immunotherapy (see below). SITC members have substantial expertise in immunology and clinical trial methodology, and this experience in cancer could help our colleagues to reduce the overall impact of the pandemic. For example, translational studies to define the immunologic responses to the virus and identify abnormal/ineffective responses that fail to clear virus and/or produce immune-mediated pathology could lead to novel therapeutics. Our members are very familiar with the urgent need to find therapies for life-threatening diseases and can advocate to make potentially life-saving medications available to patients. At the same time, we can also advocate for developing therapies based on sound scientific evidence produced in high quality clinical research; in our own field, we are keenly aware of potentially misleading conclusions from anecdotal reports, uncontrolled trials and small randomized studies of therapeutic agents. We live in a time of amazing science, and I feel confident that science will rapidly produce effective diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for this pandemic and the next pandemic we will face in the future.

So, on a note of optimism, we are proceeding with plans for a live Annual Meeting this year. In November, the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) will welcome thousands of our most dedicated and accomplished basic scientists, translational researchers, clinicians and others to our 35th Anniversary Annual Meeting & Pre-Conference Programs (SITC 2020). SITC member registration is officially open. In keeping with our commitment to promote early career development and in celebration of the society's 35th anniversary, all current student members of SITC will receive free registration to the 35th Anniversary Annual Meeting.

Please take note that SITC 2020 will take place on new days this year (Tuesday, Nov. 10–Sunday, Nov. 15), and we will return to the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

As in past years, the 2020 Annual Meeting will feature several keynote presentations delivered by investigators whose work opened new areas of investigation and transformed our field. Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD (Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins), will deliver her keynote address titled, Turning Immunologically Quiescent Tumors into Immune Responsive Cancers. And commemorating our society's 35th anniversary, Helen E. Heslop, MD (Baylor College of Medicine), will describe the current state of T-cell Therapy of Cancer in her keynote address.

We are also very much looking forward to the Richard V. Smalley, MD, Memorial Award and Lectureship, our society's highest award and named in honor of the SITC charter member. This fall, we honor three researchers whose contributions to the area of immune checkpoint inhibitors fundamentally changed the treatment of cancer: Lieping Chen, MD, PhD (Yale School of Medicine), Gordon Freeman, MD, PhD (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), and Arlene Sharpe, MD, PhD (Harvard Medical School). I would like to thank this year's keynote speakers for sharing their expertise with SITC 2020 attendees and for their continued contributions in the field.

SITC 2020 will again include workshops and programs for an intense focus on specific scientific topics and for broader educational objectives. Our annual workshop, a pre-conference program, will delve more deeply into the rapidly expanding area of Engineering Immune Cells for Cancer Therapy. This year's industry program will address Immunotherapy Resistance and Failure for immune checkpoint inhibitors. Applications for consideration to present your research during the Immunotherapy Resistance and Failure Pre-Conference Program are also open, and are due on July 31, 2020, at 5 p.m. PDT. The Primer on Tumor Immunology and Cancer Immunotherapy™ is a critical and timely educational program covering the basic principles and a variety of techniques within tumor immunology and immunotherapy. New for this year, the Primer will also touch on emerging therapies and technologies in the field.

In our society's continued effort to provide early career investigators with meaningful professional development and networking opportunities, SITC will again host a workshop on building skills to write successful grants; a Meet-the-Expert Lunch for attendees to connect with leaders in the field in a small group setting; and an evening early career scientist networking event. SITC's Career Connections program will return for a second year and will include a networking reception, on-site job board and other opportunities for attendees to connect directly (and don't forget to peruse our Online Job Board, available year-round). Further, SITC, through support from the Forward Fund, will present 35 travel awards to young investigators this year, recognizing their research achievements. The early career scientists will be honored during the Award Ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 14. I will do my best to pronounce all the names correctly this year.

Please be sure to attend the 35th Anniversary Reception in celebration of the society's special anniversary year, which will take place the evening of Saturday, Nov. 14, at the National Museum of American History. This will be an amazing night of Washington D.C. fun and frolic and you will be able to celebrate 35 years of immense dedication to discovery and application of cancer immunotherapy with your colleagues in an impressive museum, and the night will include heavy hors d'oeuvres, drinks and dancing. Purchase your tickets through your SITC 2020 registration.

As outstanding research is a perennial highlight at our Annual Meeting, we hope you'll submit your work for consideration as an oral or poster abstract presentation. Submissions are now open for regular abstract and late-breaking abstract applications.

In celebration of our 35th anniversary, SITC will offer 35 Young Investigator Awards, all recognizing excellence in novel research and providing young investigators with the experience necessary for successful careers. SITC is also accepting research applications on immune checkpoint inhibitor resistance or failure for the opportunity to present during SITC 2020's Immunotherapy Resistance and Failure Pre-Conference Program.

We've covered only a small portion of the agenda that will make SITC 2020 another remarkable Annual Meeting. I will continue to provide updates about programing as the year progresses. Meanwhile, for those who have not yet signed up for a SITC membership in 2020, please do so now to receive access to the exclusive SITC 2020 members-only registration period and access to housing. Public registration opens on April 20. Click here to learn more about SITC 2020 registration or continue reading this month's edition of the Immune Monitor.

I look forward to seeing in National Harbor this Nov. 10–15 for SITC 2020.
 
Sincerely,
















Mario Sznol, MD
SITC President

Monday, March 30, 2020

JITC Letter from the Editor - March 2020


Dear JITC Readers,

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global emergency of unprecedented scale, placing an incredible burden on the healthcare system in every affected nation. As JITC readers, you are at the forefront of the outbreak, and, on behalf of the journal as well as SITC as a whole, we wholeheartedly offer gratitude for your ongoing efforts while wishing health and safety for you, your families and your patients.
Publication at JITC continues with this March edition of the JITC digest, which spotlights our commitment to publishing high quality scholarly work in a variety of formats. The journal is quickly becoming not only a leading repository of original research papers in the immunotherapy field, but also a go-to source for top-tier reviews and cutting-edge short hypotheses and case reports.   
Original research articles in this month's JITC digest are similar inasmuch as they describe processes for building tools, but they originate from opposite ends of the translational research spectrum. In a fully computational work that performed all experiments in silico with publically available datasets, Jie Sun and colleagues identify a long non-coding RNA signature as an indicator of immune cell infiltration in non-small cell lung cancer that was predictive of patient outcomes and response to checkpoint blockade. The other paper, from Ssu-Hsueh Tseng et al., describes extensive and elegant "wet" lab work to develop and validate a novel genetically induced mouse model of peritoneal metastasis in high-grade serous carcinoma.
Publishing excellent reviews is a priority for the journal, and we're proud this month to feature a comprehensive discussion of adenosinergic signaling in tumor immunosuppression with a focus on the potential of CD39 as a potential target for checkpoint therapy by David Allard, Bertrand Allard and John Stagg. This is part of JITC's growing Immune Checkpoints Beyond PD-1 review series.  
Finally, Esther Lutgens and Tom Seijkens present a hypothesis that checkpoint inhibition could promote the inflammatory processes in the vascular wall that drive atherosclerosis progression—a concept that merits further study.
As JITC continues to grow and thrive, the efforts and insights of the journal's peer reviewers are always appreciated. It's this "behind the scenes" work that ensures JITC remains the leading journal in the immunotherapy field. If you would like to support the journal while also gaining the many benefits of being a peer reviewer, we are welcoming applications, which you may submit through the SITC Volunteer Portal.
Best regards,

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

To view the entire March 2020 JITC Digest, please click here

Friday, March 6, 2020

JITC Letter from the Editor - February 2020


pedro-romero_1__1_.jpgDear JITC Readers,

Welcome to the February edition of the JITC digest. The journal continues to grow and thrive, publishing impactful research across the entire spectrum of the diverse and interdisciplinary immunotherapy field. The articles in this month's digest highlight innovative approaches to overcoming longstanding challenges in cancer immunotherapy, and will surely spark important conversations moving forward.
I'm thrilled to report that this month's digest features three papers from one of the journal's new sections, Immune cell therapies and immune cell engineering—a burgeoning area that continues to push boundaries in terms of advancing scientific understanding and improving patient outcomes.
The highlighted articles feature somewhat "outside-the-box" cell therapy strategies, two of which could have exciting implications for the treatment of solid tumors. In elegant preclinical models, Rahul Suresh et al. demonstrate robust anti-tumor activity by adoptively transferred gene-edited immature myeloid cells. In a different tactic, the feasibility of generating PD-1-deficient effector memory T cells specific for melanoma antigens was demonstrated by Lucine Marotte and colleagues.
Although cell therapies have a well-established role in the treatment of hematologic malignancies, relapse remains common. In an attempt to improve outcomes, Benjamin Derman et al. demonstrate two effective strategies to significantly reduce and delay T regulatory cell recovery after autologous stem cell transplant in a pilot study of 15 patients with multiple myeloma.
In addition to the exciting articles in the cell therapy section, be sure to read the paper by Shibin Qu et al., describing a novel approach to tumor ablation that causes the release of non-denatured neoantigens and damage-associated molecular patterns capable of potentiating the efficacy of checkpoint blockade for non-immunogenic tumors in mouse models.
Our field keeps moving at a tremendous pace! If you'd like to join in to real-time conversations about the latest research and you're active on social media, be sure to take a moment to follow the official JITC Twitter handle, @jitcancer.  
Best regards,

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

To view the entire February 2020 JITC Digest, please click here

Thursday, February 6, 2020

President's Message - February 2020

Dear Colleagues,

One of the most important priorities for SITC and for our field is to support and train early career investigators. In 2020, we are offering six SITC Fellowships and a new, unique award, totaling $600,000 in funding.

The six fellowships are possible thanks to the strong financial commitment of our industry partners. We are again able to honor the memory of one of our members, Holbrook Kohrt, MD, PhD, via the Cancer Immunotherapy Translational Memorial Fellowship. This year’s award is the third such fellowship in remembrance of Dr. Kohrt, an assistant professor at Stanford University, known for his commitment to discover and develop novel therapies to enhance anti-tumor immunity. You can read our society’s tribute and view photos from our 2016 dedication ceremony here. For a complete listing of the available 2020 SITC Fellowships, please click here or continue reading this edition of the Immune Monitor. Applications are now open and due by Feb. 28.

SITC will also offer an additional award opportunity, the SITC-NanoString Technologies Spatial Profiling Award. This new research award will be given to a young investigator who will leverage NanoString Technologies’ GeoMx™ Digital Spatial Profiler (DSP) to perform highly multiplexed spatial profiling of RNA and proteins. Click here to learn more and apply to this award (also with a Feb. 28 deadline).

In 2020, SITC will be holding its 35th Anniversary Annual Meeting & Pre-Conference Programs (Nov. 10–14 in National Harbor, Md.). As the field and our meeting has grown, so has the need for several more focused meetings throughout the year on key emerging areas of interest and importance. We’ve seen remarkable advances in tumor-targeted immunotherapy technology including CAR-T cells and antibody-drug conjugates and anticipate that identifying additional tumor-specific cell surface targets will further enable development of these types of agents. This year we will hold our first meeting on Interrogating the Tumor-Specific Surfaceome for Immune Targeting Workshop, taking place April 23–24 in San Diego (click here to register now). The tumor-specific surfaceome workshop will provide opportunities for investigators to present their research and will allow attendees to share their work with fellow experts in the field. Those whose abstracts are not selected for oral presentation will have the opportunity to present their work as a poster. Abstracts for this workshop are due by Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. PST. Click here to submit your abstract. Encore presentations are welcome!

Beyond the science, SITC will be expanding its efforts to promote professional development for its members. Following last year’s successful inaugural event, the society’s Women in Cancer Immunotherapy Network (WIN) Leadership Institute returns this summer, and will grow to two programs, one in Seattle (July 13–14) and one in Chicago (Aug. 3–4). Women interested in applying to attend either program are invited to submit an application by March 9 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Finally, I would like to offer well-deserved congratulations to the SITC members, led by SITC Past President Howard L. Kaufman, MD, FACS, for their recent manuscript, Defining Current Gaps in Quality Measures for Cancer Immunotherapy: Consensus Report from the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) 2019 Quality Summit, as published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer (JITC). The article addresses optimal application of cancer immunotherapy for patient benefit, and serves as SITC’s initial formal effort to further define and standardize quality delivery of cancer immunotherapy. I look forward to our society’s continued work in this important area.

Sincerely,















Mario Sznol, MD
SITC President

Thursday, January 16, 2020

JITC Letter from the Editor - January 2020


pedro-romero_1__1_.jpgDear JITC Readers,

Welcome to the first JITC Digest of 2020! The past decade has seen cancer immunotherapy advance to an incredible degree, and the pace of innovation is not looking to slow down any time soon. It is an exciting time for the field and for the journal as JITC continues to expand and evolve to serve the community.

To support our continued growth, JITC has partnered with a new publisher, BMJ, which will allow the journal to offer an improved experience for authors, editors, reviewers and readers at all steps during the publication process. You can read more about the transition in a special editorial in the January issue.

Additionally, JITC will now offer two new sections focusing on exciting emerging areas in our field: Immune Cell Therapy and Immune Cell Engineering, edited by Dr. Marcela V Maus, and Oncolytic Immunotherapy, edited by Dr. Howard L Kaufman. We’re thrilled to help usher these important and innovative approaches into more widespread clinical use.

The highlighted papers in this month’s digest truly exemplify the tremendous pace of advancement within the cancer immunotherapy field, especially in the area of immune checkpoints. When the journal was first established in 2013, no agents targeting the programmed death (PD)-1 receptor or its ligand had been approved by the FDA and now checkpoint blockade has become a mainstay in the treatment of numerous malignancies.

Kidney cancer is one such disease for which checkpoint blockade has radically altered the treatment landscape, motivating SITC to update its Cancer Immunotherapy Guidelines. You can read the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer consensus statement on immunotherapy for the treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma by Brian Rini et al. in this issue.

And our understanding of immune checkpoints continues to progress. Almost every aspect in the translational research pipeline is represented in the manuscripts in this month’s digest, including characterization of the tumor microenvironment, pre-clinical validation for two novel checkpoint blockade strategies, and the first retrospective study of the tolerability of anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 therapy in patients with pre-existing or newly diagnosed paraneoplastic syndromes.

With best regards,

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

To view the entire January 2020 JITC Digest, please click here