Vision, Mission and Research Areas of Interest

Vision and Mission

The Center for Immuno-Oncology’s vision is to cure patients with cancer through the development of new immunotherapies.

Our mission is to advance the field of immuno-oncology by investigating the biologic impact of immunotherapy and translating these discoveries into science-driven clinical research.

The goals of the Center for Immuno-Oncology are to answer fundamental questions about cancer immunotherapy through preclinical studies, and to develop and test novel immunotherapies and immune-oncology strategies through rigorous clinical studies.

Research Areas of Interest

The Center for Immuno-Oncology (CIO) brings a multidisciplinary focus to the preclinical and clinical development of agents that target multiple components of the patient’s immune system as well as the tumor microenvironment.

These include a full range of therapies designed to activate, increase and improve the body’s immune response to the cancer, including:

  • Therapeutic cancer vaccines
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors
  • Monoclonal and bispecific antibodies
  • Immune system modulators
  • Cell therapies
  • Agents that alter tumor cells to render them more susceptible to immune attack

We investigate complementary cell therapies both preclinically and clinically, alone and in combination approaches.

A major strength of the CIO is the seamless transition of hypothesis-generating preclinical studies to science-driven clinical trials. The Center also studies the immune responses of patients in the tumor microenvironment and its surroundings to better understand how agents are working and to inform subsequent trials.

The CIO takes full advantage of the NCI intramural program to carry out the high risk/high reward work of preclinical work and early-stage clinical studies. We use agents and strategies that, if they demonstrate early promise, can easily be shared with scientists and clinicians in other laboratories and clinics, both within NIH and the extramural community, for further study in larger clinical trials.

The CIO also employs the NCI collaborative research and development agreement (CRADA) mechanism to collaborate with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to rapidly deploy novel agents and strategies from the bench to bedside.

Translational Research Areas of Current Investigation

  1. Activation of an anti-tumor response. The use of vaccines is directed against tumor-associated antigens, neo-epitopes of tumors, transcription factors such as brachyury, and viral antigens such as HPV. These studies also involve agents to activate specific memory T-cell responses.
  2. Increasing the potency of the immune response. The CIO employs immunocytokines such as the IL-15 superagonist N803 and tumor targeting IL-12, among others, to potentiate immune responses. The CIO is also investigating Intratumoral administration of agonists.
  3. Elimination/reduction of immunosuppressive entities. This is accomplished through the use of (a) checkpoint inhibitors such as anti-PD1/PDL1 and anti-CTLA4, (b) bifunctional agents such as anti-PDL1/TGFβR2 to target the tumor microenvironment (TME), (c) inhibitors of IL-8 in the TME, and (d) novel tumor targeting bifunctional agents.
  4. Novel cellular therapies. These include high avidity NK (haNK) cells, tumor targeting anti-PDL1/haNK cells, and autologous NK cells activated with cytokines.
  5. Modulation of the tumor cell phenotype. The CIO is employing epigenetic modifiers such as HDAC inhibitors and so-called “non-immune”–based therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal therapies to alter the tumor cell phenotype to render tumor cells more susceptible to immune-mediated attack.
  6. The analysis of tumor cell plasticity. Studies are ongoing to analyze the various mechanisms of resistance of tumor cells to lysis, and mechanisms to inhibit this phenomenon.
  7. Methods to modify tumor architecture. These studies include the blockade of collagen derived inhibitor signals with a LAIR-2-Fc fusion protein.
  8. Combination therapies. Many of the above agents are being employed in novel combination immunotherapy approaches.

Industry Collaborations

The CIO partners extensively on scientific and clinical activities with collaborators in the private sector via Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) implemented by the NCI Technology Transfer Center. For more information, contact Michael Pollack, Ph.D., at 240-276-5530.