In the News

On Cancer: The New Yorker Features Immune Therapy Work of Memorial Sloan Kettering Researchers

By Media Staff  |  Friday, April 20, 2012
Pictured: Jedd Wolchok and James Allison Medical oncologist and immunologist Jedd Wolchok (left) and Immunology Program Chair James Allison

In an article describing the history and promise of immunotherapy for cancer treatment, the April 23 edition of The New Yorker highlights the groundbreaking work of James Allison, Chair of the Sloan Kettering Institute's Immunology Program, and medical oncologist and immunologist Jedd Wolchok.

Research in Dr. Allison’s laboratory has resulted in the development of ipilimumab (YervoyTM), an innovative cancer therapy that works by manipulating a patient’s immune system. Dr. Wolchok led the clinical research that brought patients this drug, which was approved by the FDA for the treatment of advanced melanoma in March 2011. Ipilimumab is the first drug shown to help patients with this aggressive form of skin cancer live longer.

In the article, titled “The T-Cell Army,” Dr. Allison says, “This is a drug unlike any other drug you know. You are not treating the cancer — you are treating the immune system.”

The Path from the Laboratory to the Clinic

In the 1990s, Dr. Allison discovered a molecule called CTLA-4, which plays a role in preventing the immune system from attacking the body’s own tissues. Together with his colleagues and a biotechnology company, Dr. Allison produced an antibody-based drug that can temporarily block the function of CTLA-4, allowing the immune system to attack cancer cells.

Early on, some scientists and pharmaceutical companies expressed skepticism about the feasibility of Dr. Allison’s endeavor. But as he told The New Yorker, he “wanted to be the advocate who is keeping it in everybody’s face,” while continuing his research.

Over the years, Drs. Allison and Wolchok and other Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators kept their focus on the promise they saw in the therapy, pursuing preclinical and clinical studies of ipilimumab. In some patients for whom there were no other treatment options, they saw remarkable responses.

One particularly dramatic story of an early clinical trial participant, shared with The New Yorker, involves a young woman with advanced melanoma who had exhausted all available treatments. Today, eight years after receiving ipilimumab, she continues to be cancer-free.  

The Future of Immune Therapy for Treating Cancer

The investigators are now exploring ways to extend the usefulness of ipilimumab — for example, by giving it in combination with other drugs. “The future,” Dr. Wolchok said to The New Yorker, “is about thoughtful combinations, different antibodies, perhaps with targeted therapies.” The drug is also showing promise for the treatment of a number of cancers in addition to melanoma — including tumors of the lung and prostate.

Learn more about the article and hear a conversation with writer Jerome Groopman on The New Yorker Out Loud podcast (interview begins at 7:25).

Comments

Dear Dr. Wolchok,
Today (5/15/13) I heard on NBC about your Immunotherapy research with Yervoy drug. Do you currently have any trials for Stage IV renal cancer patients? In short, my brother Richard has been diagnosed with renal cancer and has currently started on Sutent for 2 weeks. Unfortunately due to a job change, he has no insurance, but at this stage he is willing to try promising drugs, such as this one "combination" we heard of if you need human trial volunteers. He is a hard working husband and father. His son, my nephew died of Leukemia after being misdiagnosed a few years ago. We are in central TX. and are willing to be a subject or a referral to a study you support in hopes to increase his chances of survival. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.
Respectfully and humbly submitted
Irene
512-680-5566
odomi@yahoo.com

Hi, Irene. If you would like to make an appointment to speak with a Memorial Sloan-Kettering doctor, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/appointment. You can find a list of our current clinical trials for kidney cancer here: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/clinical-trials/clinical-trial?keys=&field_trial_diseases_value=Kidney+Cancer Thank you for your comment.

My father was diagnosed with inoperable sarcoma plueria last Fall.
He underwent radiation treatments in January.
When I saw the report on NBC News (5-15-13) I sent a link to the report to my father's oncologist and asked if immunotherapy treatment would help my father.
I don't know if the oncologist watched the news report, but she replied, "immunotherapy treatments ... are only used as standard treatment in certain types of cancer, not sarcoma. I would not recommend them for your father."
Is that correct Dr. Wolchok?
What do you recommend?
Can you help my father?
Thank you very much for your time and kindness.

Don, we are not able to answer personal medical questions on our blog. If you'd like to make an appointment to speak with a Memorial Sloan-Kettering physician, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/appointment. Thank you for your comment.

I've just been diagnosed with Stage 4a lung cancer T4 Mia No, with TTFI indication. My oncologist is looking into treating with targeted gene therapy. Has your immunotherapy treatment been tested with lung cancer? Thanks!

Hi, Gabrielle, there is one trial currently under way at MSKCC looking at immunotherapy for lung cancer. You can find information about it here: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/trial/12-202 If you would like to speak with a Memorial Sloan-Kettering physician about other trials you may be able to participate in, please call 800-525-2225 or go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/appointment. Thank you for your comment.

After four months of constant stomache aches and a 80 pound weight loss following a routine endoscopy procedure, my dad has been diagnosed with pancreatic, liver and lung cancer. He still at home refusing and/or unable to eat. I don't feel like his doctors are particularly proactive and no course of treatment has been chosen. Are these cancers treatable with this new theraphy. What is the possibility of him being admitted and participating in an aggressive trail? He lives in NJ and may be too weak to travel back and forth.

Sayeeda, we are sorry to hear about your dad's diagnosis. To speak with someone at Memorial Sloan Kettering about what kinds of treatment options may be available for your dad here, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/appointment for more information. Not sure where in New Jersey he is, but we have an outpatient center in Basking Ridge. Thank you for your comment.

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