The Sentinel


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.


Mario Sznol, MD
SITC President

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