The Sentinel


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The METIOR Incubator and Educating the Next Generation of Immuno-Oncology Experts

by Saman Maleki, PhD

In August 2017, SITC brought together a group of 29 young researchers and physicians, from across the world, that were involved in various aspects of immunotherapy research to compete in a bold new program called “Sparkathon.” These people were divided into three teams and tasked to work together to develop a solution tackling the most pressing hurdles facing the fast-growing field of cancer immunotherapy. Each team was assigned a mentor with extensive science and business background and teams formulated their solutions to a business deck and pitched it to a group of SITC leaders, academics, and industry experts.

One of the teams set to address the educational challenge facing early-career researchers ­– from any background/sector – who want to enter the field of Immuno-Oncology. This novel educational program is named Mentoring for Early Translational Immuno-Oncology Researchers (METIOR) incubator. It brings together researchers from various sectors and backgrounds and educates them about Immuno-Oncology while developing a team-based multi-institutional project under the mentorship of immunotherapy experts from academia and industry. The METIOR incubator received $75,000 in seed funding from SITC to assist the establishment of their unique educational program. 

METIOR incubator selected ten participants from a pool of highly qualified applicants with various backgrounds in cancer research and assigned them into two teams: 1) team Checkpoints and 2) team CAR T-cell. Each team is currently working on two different projects that is directly linked to cancer immunotherapy. Participants met each other and their mentors at the first METIOR retreat at The University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) in March 2018. After two intense days of mentored brainstorming and project development, each team received $20,000 in seed money to work on their respective projects.

Team checkpoint seeks to identify biomarkers that are associated with the activity of endogenous retroviruses with double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) in ovarian cancer that might sensitize these tumors to checkpoint inhibitors.

Team CAR T-cell aims to build a centralized information platform (Virtual Immune-oncology Tissue Consortium, VITC) comprising of reference to clinical and pre-clinical samples with a focus on immunotherapy. This platform will be the first of its kind to efficiently consolidate immunotherapy resources across institutions into a searchable, interactive scientific network accessible to all researchers worldwide.

Teams have monthly teleconference meeting with their mentors and will meet again, in person, with their mentors in early September in London, Ontario for the second METIOR Incubator retreat. They will work on consolidating their ideas and preliminary results to shape a joint grant application with the goal of seeking major peer-reviewed funding. The last METIOR Incubator retreat would be at the SITC 33rd Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. in November, where each team will present their progresses during the noon hour on Friday (TimIOs) and Saturday (METIOR). For a complete look at the Annual Meet schedule, click here.

Author wished to thank Ms. Alexandra Cadena and Dr. Sebastiano Battaglia for their proofreading of this article.


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