Memorial Sloan Kettering – Hackensack Meridian Health Partnership Announces Funding for Inaugural Immunology Research Collaboration Projects

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MSK Bergen

MSK Bergen in New Jersey

As part of the Memorial Sloan Kettering – Hackensack Meridian Health Partnership, the two organizations have formed an Immunology Research Collaboration. Through this joint initiative, researchers can apply for funding to support innovative investigations to explore the power of the immune system and ways it may be harnessed to fight cancer.

The three researchers with projects selected in 2020 for funding support over one to two years are:

  • Johannes Zakrzewski, MD, Associate Member in the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation, is leading the project “Targeting Auto and Neoantigens with In Vivo-Generated Antigen-Specific T Cells.” Through this project, his lab will investigate novel strategies for cancer immunotherapy and immunosurveillance by employing the capacity of the thymus gland in mice to produce cancer-targeted T-cells, and by harnessing advances in gene therapy and chimeric antigen receptor technology to help lay the groundwork for future cancer immunotherapy treatment options that are safe and durable. This immunotherapy approach could be especially suitable for children and young adults with cancer.
  • Boglarka Gyurkocza, MD, a Memorial Sloan Kettering medical oncologist, is leading the project “Targeting the Gut Microbiome to Improve Outcomes after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.” This project will explore in an ongoing clinical trial whether certain antibiotics preserve specific anaerobic intestinal microbiota in patients who have received stem cell transplants, and how preserving this gut flora affects the risk of patients developing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a serious complication of stem cell transplant. The trial is currently open at MSK and will also open at the John Theurer Cancer Center. Dr. Gyurkocza and colleagues will also examine how the loss of anaerobic gut flora may impact the risk of relapse and progression in multiple myeloma mouse models.
  • Rena Feinman, PhD, Associate Member in the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation, is leading a project called “Impact of the Gut Microbiome on Immunotherapeutic Response in Multiple Myeloma.” She and the project team will investigate whether distinct gut microbiota can predict the risk for relapse in patients with high-risk multiple myeloma who received the standard of care, including a stem cell transplant from a donor. By analyzing the gut microbiota in patients’ stool before and after transplant, the researchers will also be able to personalize which antibiotics a patient receives. Dr. Feinman will also explore the relationship between the gut microbiome and multiple myeloma progression in experimental models.

“Immunotherapy has become an essential pillar of cancer treatment, but much remains to be discovered about the immune system and new ways to take advantage of its power to treat cancer effectively,” said Paul Sabbatini, MD, deputy physician-in-chief for clinical research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. “The Immunology Research Collaboration between Memorial Sloan Kettering and Hackensack Meridian Health gives researchers an opportunity to delve deeply into unexplored facets of the immune system, both in the lab and clinic, and speed discoveries that will ultimately contribute to reducing the burden of cancer on our patients, their families, and the world. We are enthusiastic about the potential of these three research projects and look forward to their results.”

“While immunotherapy is revolutionizing cancer treatment, it benefits are not always sustainable over the long term,” noted Andre Goy, MD, MS, chairman and executive director of John Theurer Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of the Hackensack Meridian Health Oncology Care Transformation Service. “The work of these investigators will expand our knowledge of the immune system and glean new insights which may lead to novel immunotherapeutics that are more powerful and more durable than those we are using today. These projects capture the collaborative spirit of this initiative and could have a significant impact on patient outcomes.”