Cancer Research Institute Names Newest Class of Lloyd J. Old STARs, Today’s Visionaries in Cancer Immunotherapy Research

  • Six U.S. scientists have been awarded $1.25 million each over 5 years to conduct high-risk, high-reward cancer immunology research with the potential to transform cancer treatment
  • CRI Lloyd J. Old STARs are developing and applying new technologies and methods in gene editing, synthetic biology, computational immunology, multiomic sequencing, and immune cell engineering to improve cancer patient responses to immunotherapy

NEW YORK, June 22, 2022—The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of powerful immunotherapies for all types of cancer, announced today the newest cohort of scientists chosen for the CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program (Scientists Taking Risks). Each STAR will receive a grant of $1.25 million payable over five years to carry out high-risk/high-reward research that has the potential to produce transformative leaps forward in tumor immunology. This long-term funding provides a degree of flexibility and freedom for CRI STARs to explore new and disruptive avenues of cancer research.

“The competitive CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR program supports gifted, mid-career scientists working at the intersection of immunology, technology, and bioinformatics to identify specific molecular and genetic factors that influence patient responses to immunotherapy, discovering answers to the field’s key scientific questions to potentially effect a sea change in how cancer patients are diagnosed and treated,” said Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D., CEO and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute, which now actively supports twenty-two STARs throughout the U.S. and Europe.

The announcement comes during the tenth annual Cancer Immunotherapy Month™ celebrations in June of scientists who are driving new and lifesaving advances in the immunological treatment and prevention of cancer. This year’s Cancer Research Institute Lloyd J. Old STARs include:

  • Iliyan D. Iliev, Ph.D., of Weill Cornell Medicine, who is breaking new ground in efforts to understand the role fungi play in cancer development and immunotherapy, characterizing how different fungal strains promote or inhibit cancer growth through interaction of their metabolites and toxins with the immune system, and determining how the presence of fungi within the tumor microenvironment and blood influences – and may even predict – patient responses to treatment with immunotherapy
  • Philip J. Kranzusch, Ph.D., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, who has discovered and is exploring thousands of previously uncharacterized signaling enzymes from the cGAS family involved in immune cell responses to threats, using biochemistry and structural biology to uncover the functions of these enzymes and their related cellular pathways in order to define at the molecular level how they are activated, potentially leading to new, more effective therapeutic strategies
  • Kole T. Roybal, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology, who has developed a synthetic biology approach to modifying immune cell receptor and signaling gene programs to create “smart cell” therapeutics with enhanced abilities to target tumors more precisely and more safely than current cell therapies, which have so far proven largely ineffective against solid tumors despite their successes in treating cancers of the blood
  • Brian Ruffell, Ph.D., of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, who aims to improve patient responses to immunotherapy by using CRISPR-Cas9 genetic screens to define specific molecular pathways involved in suppression of dendritic cells – key orchestrators of the immune response to cancer and other threats – in order to identify and validate targets of immunotherapy for preclinical development
  • Ansuman T. Satpathy, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Cancer Institute, and Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology, who is using new genetic analysis technologies capable of scanning and profiling the entire genome of immune cells to understand how transcription and expression of specific genes affects immune cell behavior or leads to dysfunctions in specific cellular pathways that contribute to T cell exhaustion, and is developing and using tools from functional genomics and mass spectrometry to study fundamental properties of the immune system in search of new regulators of anti-tumor immune responses
  • Matthew H. Spitzer, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Gladstone-UCSF Institute of Genomic Immunology, who is using cutting-edge experimental and computational technologies to explore the role of immune cells circulating outside tumors – rather than those within the tumor microenvironment – in conferring long-term protection against cancer and infection, leading potentially to the identification of therapeutic targets involved in tumor-mediated immune suppression throughout the body.

The Cancer Research Institute named this program in honor of Lloyd J. Old, M.D., the “Father of Modern Tumor Immunology,” who served as CRI’s founding scientific and medical director from 1971 to 2011. A mentor to generations of immunologists and tumor immunologists who flourished under his guidance and went on to make significant contributions to the field, Dr. Old embodies the ideals of the STAR program, through which CRI identifies and funds high-impact scientists whose outstanding work has distinguished them as today’s visionaries in cancer immunology.

The following members of CRI’s Scientific Advisory Council leadership comprise the CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program Selection Committee:

  • Carl F. Nathan, M.D., (Committee Chair), R.A. Rees Pritchett Professor of Microbiology and Chair, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Weill Cornell Medicine
  • James P. Allison, Ph.D., Regental Professor and Chair of Immunology; Olga and Keith Wiess Distinguished University Chair for Cancer Research; Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform; Deputy Director for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers; Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and 2018 Nobel Laureate
  • Glenn Dranoff, M.D., Global Head of Immuno-Oncology, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research
  • Kunle Odunsi, M.D., Ph.D., FRCOG, FACOG, Director, University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center; Dean of Oncology and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Chicago
  • Ellen Puré, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology; Grace Lansing Lambert Professor of Biomedical Science and Chair, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine; Director, Penn Vet Cancer Center; and Member, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania
  • Robert D. Schreiber, Ph.D., Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Distinguished Professor, Pathology and Immunology; Interim Chief, Division of Immunobiology; Director, Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs; Co-Leader, Tumor Immunology Program, Siteman Cancer Center, Washington University School of Medicine
  • John Wherry, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Systems Pharmacology & Translational Therapeutics; Richard and Barbara Schiffrin President’s Distinguished Professor; Director, Institute for Immunology; Co-Program Leader, Immunobiology Program, Abramson Cancer Center, and Co-Director, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., Lloyd J. Old/Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Chair in Clinical Investigation; Chief, Immuno-Oncology Service, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program; Director, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MSK; and Associate Director, Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Applications to the next CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR Program funding round are due January 15, 2023. To learn more about the program, including eligibility and application instructions, go to cancerresearch.org/star.

 

About the Cancer Research Institute The Cancer Research Institute (CRI), established in 1953, is the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to saving more lives by fueling the discovery and development of powerful immunotherapies for all types of cancer. Guided by a world-renowned Scientific Advisory Council that includes four Nobel laureates and 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, CRI has invested more than $474 million in support of research conducted by immunologists and tumor immunologists at the world’s leading medical centers and universities and has contributed to many of the key scientific advances that demonstrate the potential for immunotherapy to change the face of cancer treatment. To learn more, go to cancerresearch.org.