Earlier this year we got in touch with Renier Brentjens, Memorial Sloane Kettering, to talk about the industry ahead of his presentation at the World Immunotherapy congress taking place 14-16th November.
1) What do you think has been the biggest achievement within the immunotherapy sector in the last 12 months?
I believe that the biggest achievement is a tie between immune checkpoint blockade and adoptive therapy of genetically modified T cells (both CAR and TCR modified T cells). While these 2 approaches, at first look, seem to be distinct, I actually believe that the inevitable combination of these 2 approaches will ultimately be collectively viewed as the biggest immunotherapy breakthrough in 1-2 year’s time.
2) What important points do you hope to convey at the congress, and what information can you give me now that delegates can look forward to?
I hope to convey the yet untapped potential of CAR T cell therapy in cancer immunotherapy. Specifically, to date CAR T cell therapy is generally recognized to be a novel and promising approach to the treatment of patients with relapsed and refractory B cell ALL. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with these clinical data serving simply as a proof of principle. The implication of this data is that genetically engineered T cells can be successfully applied to a broader range of malignancies including solid tumors. However, we acknowledge that such successful application to other cancers will require a better understanding of tumor biology and tumor immunology with consequent additional modification of CAR T cells to allow for curative immunotherapy of solid tumor malignancies.
3) What do you think will be the biggest topic of discussion at this November’s World Immunotherapy Congress?
Again, I suspect that the hot topics at this meeting will focus on adoptive T cell therapy of cancer and include discussions of cancer neoantigens, genetically modified tumor targeted T cells, and how to overcome tumor antigen escape as well as the hostile tumor microenvironemnt which serves as a significant obstacle to adoptive T cell therapies.
4) What are you looking forward to the most at the World Immunotherapy congress?
I look forward to interactions with other investigators whose work is focused on optimizing cancer immunotherapy in the context of building upon clinical trial results with T cells and checkpoint blockade and seeing how these 2 approaches may be combined in a scientifically rational manner to move this field of cancer immunotherapy forward.
5) What do you think will be the take home messages from the congress?
Cancer immunotherapy, not small molecule inhibitors, is the recently validated and true major step forward towards treating cancer. While clinical trial data strongly supports this assertion, the take home message of this meeting is that there remains much work to be done to better understand the immuno-biology of cancer in order to rationally translate this information to the clinical setting using novel scientifically approaches to optimize the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy. Patience and good scientific pre-clinical research, in combination with clinical trial insights, are requite to fully optimize the potential of cancer immunotherapy.