Damon Runyon Researchers

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Vinod P. Balachandran, MD

Despite our best current treatments, 95% of patients with pancreatic cancer, including those at the earliest stages, die within 5 years of diagnosis. By 2020, pancreatic cancer will become the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., and new therapies are urgently needed. T cells are highly specialized cells of the immune system designed to protect the human body from infections and cancer. Very few T cells recognize pancreatic cancer; however, recent work showed that these T cells play a very important role in controlling the spread of pancreatic cancer. Patients whose tumors have higher proportions of T cells survived over 3-times longer than patients who did not. Vinod’s group has unique access to these extremely rare patients that survived on average 6 years with pancreatic cancer and whose tumors have 12-times as many activated T cells as patients who have more typical poor outcomes. He has discovered that their exceptional survival is linked to T cells recognizing novel cancer proteins or neoantigens that make these cancers resemble infections. His research will focus on understanding these unique cancer proteins in long-term survivors, with the goal of developing novel immunotherapies to treat all patients with pancreatic cancer. He is now testing neoantigens as cancer vaccines in a Phase I clinical trial. 

In addition, Vinod is exploring another strategy to activate the immune system in pancreatic cancers. He hypothesizes that a new type of immune cell, ILC2s (group 2 innate lymphoid cells) can be therapeutically activated to promote anti-tumor immunity. His strategy will test the combination of recombinant interleukin-33 (rIL-33) with checkpoint inhibition (PD-1 blockade), and assess activation of ILCs and restriction of tumor growth. He aims to rapidly translate these findings into a first-in-human clinical trial. 


Project title: "Recombinant interleukin-33 immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer"
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Named Award: 1440 Foundation Clinical Investigator
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Steven D. Leach, MD, and Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Pancreatic
Research Area: Immunotherapy