Immunotherapy Matchmaking

How MD Anderson is using its access to clinical samples to home in on better immunotherapy combos

MD Anderson Cancer Center is using its access to patient samples to inject more rationality into decisions about which therapies should be paired with checkpoint inhibitors, and how to optimize the combos. The goal is to make human data the cornerstone of the decision-making process.

According to immunotherapy pioneer Jim Allison, who chairs the Department of Immunology at the University of Texas MD Anderson, most combinations with checkpoint inhibitors haven’t been vetted to see if the coupling makes scientific sense before being tested in clinical trials.

“What’s happening is that we’re going forward at such a rapid clip. There’s 1,600 trials right now with PD-1 plus something and most of them are just empirical. There’s no rational basis for picking the combinations other than maybe ‘this kills T cells,’” Allison told BioCentury.

Allison’s academic work on CTLA-4 formed the basis for Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Yervoy ipilimumab, the first checkpoint inhibitor to be approved.

In 2014, Allison teamed up with Padmanee Sharma, a professor of genitourinary medical oncology at the cancer center, and Patrick Hwu, who heads its division of cancer medicine, to create the The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Immunotherapy Platform. The platform takes advantage of the large volume of clinical trial activity at the center to collect patient samples and data across more than 100 immunotherapy studies using a single master protocol, which creates efficiencies and facilitates cross-trial comparisons.

It uses the samples to

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