The Sentinel


Monday, March 29, 2021

March President's Message: Personal Reflections on Racial Disparities in Medicine and Research

 Dear Colleagues, 

I’m beginning this month’s President’s Message on a somber note. As many of you likely saw, our field recently lost a pair of luminaries in Giorgio Parmiani, MD, and José Baselga, MD. Dr. Parmiani, a 2008 recipient of SITC’s Smalley Award, served our society and worked with fellow members for decades, a few of whom shared thoughts in remembrance of Giorgio, which you can view here. Dr. Baselga, a targeted therapist whose chief area of research focused on breast cancer, served at a variety of academic medical institutions and companies over the years, most recently at AstraZeneca LP. Their contributions to science were vast and neither will be soon forgotten. Our thoughts are with their families and friends.

The passing of the noted Italian and Spanish researchers is a reminder that our connection within this scientific community is not limited by geographic boundaries. In fact, SITC members now represent more than 60 countries around the world, a number than has grown significantly in recent years. Inherently, and quite thankfully, this fact means that the SITC family features an increasingly diverse community of basic scientists, translational researchers and clinicians. Our society’s ability to seamlessly and graciously welcome new professionals from this global scientific community underscore the role we can play in breaking down walls to cultivate new relationships and create opportunities for scientists from all societal and cultural backgrounds.

Sadly, these concepts continue to be incredibly relevant in some very unfortunate respects. I am heartbroken by the recent acts of violence that have occurred against Asian Americans in the United States. My thoughts go out to all of those individuals, and their families, who have been hurt and/or affected by the actions of the hateful and uncaring.

As witnessed last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests, our country continues to reckon with the way it addresses racial inequities. As a young Asian boy growing up in West Virginia, it wasn’t always easy to see a future for myself in a true leadership position; CEOs and Presidents did not look like me. For decades, Asians have often been overlooked, particularly when considered for roles beyond the front lines of science and medicine. Even casual or professional conversations can feature micro aggressions or unconscious bias, which are damaging and ultimately limit or outright deter future professional growth. 

To achieve change, a community must raise their voices to have difficult issues acknowledged and addressed. From my experience, I see that it’s often too easy to sweep discrimination under the rug. It is why I was proud that on June 3, 2020, SITC published a statement in support of justice and equality. Simple as that may have seemed, it clearly communicates the society’s values and support for all individuals to achieve their full potential. 

Now, as our society’s first President of Asian descent, I will work with our members to shed light on existing inequities and find ways to address them that lead to tangible benefits for all. This year, SITC established a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. Co-chaired by SITC Vice President Leisha Emens, MD, PhD, and SITC Board Member Adekunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, FRCOG, FACOG, this task force will focus on improving opportunities for research, education and professional development that promote diversity, equity and inclusion in SITC and the greater cancer immunotherapy field. 

SITC has a range of activities dedicated to early career scientists seeking to connect these young investigators at an early stage of their training to make new connections in the field and build their status within cancer immunotherapy research. Further, SITC is proud to offer a 2021 SITC Fellowship, made possible by an educational grant from Nektar Therapeutics, that focuses on equity and inclusion in cancer immunotherapy (applications are due by April 2 at 11:59 p.m. EDT, by the way). 

These are just a few ways in which SITC is working to address racial disparities in our field. I look forward to connecting with more of our members in the future to hear how we’re doing, and I’m also eager to continue the conversation in this space in the coming months, so be sure to follow along.


Patrick Hwu, MD
SITC President

Thursday, March 25, 2021

SITC Remembers Giorgio Parmiani, MD

The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) remembers the life and scientific contributions of Giorgio Parmiani, MD. Dr. Parmiani brought his expertise to the society as a member in a number of ways, including serving on the World Immunotherapy Council and as an Associate Editor of the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer (JITC) from 2013–2019.

In 2008, Dr. Parmiani received the society’s highest honor, the Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award and Lectureship, and he delivered his keynote address at that year’s Annual Meeting titled, “Different Tumor Antigens in the Immunotherapy of Cancer: Are we Selecting the Right Target?” His research focused on the molecular characterization of human tumor antigens and the T cell response to them, significantly furthering our knowledge of cancer vaccines and anti-cancer immune responses. He was also a key leader in developing the Italian Network for Tumor Biotherapy, an organization that has contributed greatly to the field of cancer immunology and immunotherapy over the last few decades.

Dr. Parmiani was a beloved member of the SITC family, and several members below share further in his remembrance:

“Giorgio Parmiani, MD, PhD, was an internationally recognized scientist and physician who dedicated his life’s work to understanding the immune response to cancer and using it to improve outcomes of patients with cancer. During his tenure he trained a large number of scientists and physicians, and built a strong and robust group in Milan that continues to do amazing things. Giorgio was also a statesman who worked to unite much of the tumor immunology and immunotherapy community of Italy. He founded the Network Italiano per la Biotherapia dei Tumori (NIBIT) and served as its first President. Giorgio was a classic Milanese gentleman with great style who loved to host visiting colleagues in Milan. On one visit to his lab I remarked about the photos in his office of visitors who had come to visit at the Istituto Tumori. From our discussions it was clear that Giorgio was interested in the people who were the scientists and physicians in the field. In 2001 I was able to host Professor Parmiani as a Chiles Visiting Professor in Portland, Oregon. It was delightful and I was grateful to have our students, fellows and faculty interact with Giorgio and hear his perspective on the immune response against melanoma. However, for Giorgio it wasn’t only about cancer. It is hard for me to remember a time when we met where we did not discuss our spouses and children.

"I will miss Giorgio. He was a pioneering scientist and physician who had a great impact on the field of cancer immunotherapy, but he was also a kind and friendly heart that I admired for so many reasons.”Bernard A. Fox, PhD (Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, Providence Cancer Institute) 

“Giorgio was a teacher, a mentor, an example to follow. He was 'the immuno-oncologist' for all of us who were the believers in the field. If today there were an Italian school of oncologists dedicated to the field, it's his merit. He was also a father and, at the same time, a friend for us. He inspired all of our work with his research and ideas. This is a very sad moment for us. We should take his example as a model to inspire the new generation.”Paolo A. Ascierto, MD (Istituto Nazionale Tumori IRCCS Fondazione 'G. Pascale') 

“Giorgio was an example for me as young postgraduate of medicine; he was the type of translational researcher I was fascinated with. At that time and as many others, I was not sure that immunotherapy could have a bright future but his unwavering belief guided me. He actually put me in touch with Nick Restifo and helped to join his group at NIH. This experience changed my career for good and I truly owe Giorgio what I am today. Among his many activities, he founded the Italian network for immunotherapy and served as its first President. I will always remember his dynamic nature, the deep knowledge, and the fervent scientific discussions. We will all miss Giorgio.”Vincenzo Bronte, MD (University of Verona) 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Letter From the Editor- March

Dear JITC Readers,

Welcome to this month’s edition of the JITC digest. For many of our American and European readers, March marks the one-year anniversary of the first local shelter-in-place orders and travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although everyday life is still far from the pre-pandemic normal in many places, it seems as though the news has been increasingly hopeful day-by-day, especially as the pace of vaccination continues to accelerate.
We in the immunotherapy community can share in some of the pride in the outstanding success of the RNA-based COVID vaccines—as JITC readers are well aware, the platform was originally developed for anti-tumor therapy. Additional intersections between cancer immunotherapy and SARS-CoV-2 will be explored in JITC’s new COVID-19 and Cancer Immunotherapy Review Series.
RNA vaccines are but one of many examples of innovations that originated in the immunotherapy field with far-reaching implications. Our discipline excels at developing new platforms, and there is no shortage of interesting technologies to be found in this month’s original research articles. As an example, be sure to read about the use of virtual clinical trials to optimize dosing schedules for combination oncolytic virus therapy in an intriguing computational biology paper by Adrienne L. Jenner and colleagues.
We have a wealth of biomarkers papers this month, all of which not only describe novel observations, but also rigorously provide mechanistic insight into tumor immunobiology. In one such report, Jiakai Hou et al elegantly leverage published data sets combined with a well-designed CRISPR/Cas9 drop-out screen to identify and categorize tumor-intrinsic resistance mechanisms to immune elimination.
Retrospective analyses also yield new insights in a paper by SIyuan Dai and colleagues, who identified in silico and validated in vitro a role for CD8+ T cell-secreted CXCL13 in immunoevasion by clear cell renal cell carcinoma.
A different chemokine’s receptor, CCR8 is revealed to be a specific marker of intratumoral regulatory T cells and a viable immunotherapeutic target that yields tumor control without autoimmunity in murine models in a manuscript by Helena Van Damme et al.
Finally, Karen Slattery and colleagues identify a novel, targetable and prognostic autocrine regulatory circuit involving TGF beta that leads to systemic natural killer cell dysfunction in patients with breast cancer.
Although many of us have been physically distanced from each other for much longer than we’d like, it is clear that our community of JITC readers, authors, editors, and reviewers is as strong and vibrant as ever, and I look toward the future with optimism.
Best regards,

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

To view the entire March 2021 JITC Digest, please click here