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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to lead Immunotherapy Clinical Trials Network

SEATTLE Research institutions at 27 sites in the U.S. and Canada have been selected to participate in the Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network (CITN), a new initiative in immunotherapy funded by the National Cancer Institute and headquartered at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. CITN will establish a network of top academic immunologists to conduct multicenter research on promising new agents that boost patients' own immune systems to fight their cancer.

Immunotherapies hold promise as an alternative to traditional treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. The approach teaches the immune system to recognize a cancer cell as a foreign invader (such as a virus) and seek out and destroy residual tumor cells, typically with minimal side effects.

The mission of CITN is to select, design and conduct early-phase trials using priority agents with known and proven biologic function and to provide the high-quality research data essential to develop treatments for patients. By coordinating the efforts of academia, industry and philanthropic foundations CITN is charged with accelerating the development of new compounds that have already been discovered but are not commonly available for use to treat patients with cancer.

An open competition was held for institutions to apply for member site status in the network. Candidate institutions were evaluated on the experience, participation and collaboration of the investigators and their institutions in immunotherapy trials and their ability to provide laboratory expertise in tumor immunology to support the research.

In September 2010, the NCI awarded $17 million to the Hutchinson Center to serve as the network's Central Operations and Statistical Center, which will provide overall leadership and infrastructure for the network. Principal investigator Martin A. "Mac" Cheever, M.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Clinical Research Division, directs the network.

CITN arose from a series of three NCI immunotherapy workshops conducted between 2007 and 2009 during which participants prioritized a list of agents with high potential to serve as immunotherapeutic drugs for cancer. While all of these agents had proven immunologic or physiologic function, even today, none are broadly available for testing in patients with cancer.

"The goal of the CITN is to conduct studies likely to make effective immunotherapy agents broadly available for cancer therapy," said Cheever. "The testing of novel immunotherapy agents for clinical use in cancer treatment involves several hurdles to clear. A network of top immunotherapists will have better access to the priority agents and be better suited to design and carry out the trials than individual scientists running single trials alone," said Cheever.

There are many existing agents for activating and augmenting immune responses. One of the difficulties in developing cancer immunotherapy agents is that the drugs are not likely to do much on their own, but will need to be used in combinations of two or more, said Cheever. The reason for this is that T cells, the immune cells that have the potential to specifically attack cancer cells, need to be selectively activated, expanded in number and stimulated to survive long-term. It is unlikely that a single compound could accomplish all of these steps, especially as the treatments will also need to override the natural checks and balances our bodies have in place to prevent overexpansion of T cells.

The CITN will be managed in concert with the federally funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network, also based at the Hutchinson Center. Data coordination will be operated by the NCI's Cancer Trials Support Unit, managed by Westat, a Washington-based contract research organization.

CITN member institutions and their principal investigators are listed in the table below:

Institution Principal Investigator(s)
Baylor Research Institute & Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Karolina Palucka, MD, PhD
Case Western Reserve University Pierre Triozzi, MD
Dana Farber Cancer Center Steven Hodi, MD
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center Marc Ernstoff, MD
Duke University Medical Center Kim Lyerly, MD, FACS
Emory University Edmund Waller, MD, PhD
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center John A. Thompson, MD
MD Anderson Cancer Center Laurence J.N. Cooper, MD, PhD
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center Scott J. Antonia, MD, PhD
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD
New York University Cancer Institute Nina Bhardwaj, MD, PhD
Ohio State University William E. Carson, MD
Providence Cancer Center Walter J. Urba, MD, PhD
Roswell Park Cancer Center Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD
Rush University Cancer Center Howard Kaufman, MD
Stanford University Ronald Levy, MD
University of California, San Diego Thomas J. Kipps, MD, PhD
University of California, San Francisco Lawrence Fong, MD
University of Chicago Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD
University of Miami Joseph D. Rosenblatt, MD
University of Minnesota Jeffrey S. Miller, MD
University of Pennsylvania Carl June, MD
University of Pittsburgh Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD & Hassane M. Zarour, MD
University of Toronto Ontario Cancer Institute Pamela Ohashi, PhD
University of Virginia Craig Slingluff, MD
University of Wisconsin Paul M. Sondel, MD, PhD
Yale University Mario Sznol, MD


Contact: Dean Forbes
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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