David Kaufman is Head of Translational Oncology at Merck Research Laboratories. He oversees internal cross-disciplinary efforts in translational research and biomarker development, as well as external translational research partnering with academics and nonprofits. He has had multiple roles in oncology research and development at Merck, including oversight of early-stage through registrational clinical studies. He joined Merck through the Merck Drug Development and Leadership Program and has worked across multiple divisions including Vaccines, Biologics, Clinical Pharmacology and Clinical Oncology.
He received his MD from Cornell University and his PhD in immunology and molecular virology from Rockefeller University. He trained in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and in infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Prior to joining Merck, he was a staff physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School where his research focused on preclinical/translational HIV vaccine development and mechanisms of vaccine-elicited mucosal immunity.
Dr. Kaufman is a member of the Biomarker Consortium of the FNIH Cancer Steering Committee and the biomarker task force of the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC). He is active in mentorship through the Stand Up to Cancer Emperor of Science program, internal Merck mentoring programs and is an executive committee and board member for Action Wellness, a Philadelphia-based social services organization supporting individuals living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.
What are the two or three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy?
With the dramatic clinical successes of checkpoint blockade and adoptive cell therapies, immunotherapy has established itself as a pillar of standard cancer treatment. These successes have opened the floodgates for combination strategies that attempt to build upon and extend the benefit of monotherapies, placing us in a moment of great promise but significant challenge. Ultimately, cancer immunotherapy can benefit the most patients, with the least toxicity and cost, if we succeed in developing regiments that can be personalized to the underlying host and tumor biology of each patient. However, multiple interrelated efforts must converge to make this future state a reality:
- Accelerate an iterative cycle of clinical and translational research that allows us to develop rational combination strategies and novel biomarkers from our knowledge of primary and acquired resistance to monotherapy. Success will involve incentivizing data sharing and standardization of methodologies, as well as, fostering collaborative and interdisciplinary research efforts.
- Develop and support novel clinical and regulatory paradigms for accelerating biomarker-driven, and potentially tumor-agnostic, treatment strategies. To make a vision of precision immunotherapy a reality, we will need to enroll patients into clinical trials with novel designs to support the (preferably simultaneous) assessment of multiple biomarkers and combinations and rapidly advance the most promising combinations in the right populations. Success here will require the right clinical trial infrastructure (e.g. to support umbrella or enrichment studies), policy efforts and close collaboration with regulatory authorities.
- Advance immunotherapy combinations in the real world, including gathering real-world evidence on effectiveness, safety and patient-reported outcomes once these regimens advance to the community; use these data to continue to advance healthcare provider and patient education and refine clinical practice.
What is your vision for SITC?
SITC has a role to play in each of these aspects of cancer immunotherapy development. SITC already connects members of the immunotherapy research community through its meetings and publications and can further accelerate collaborative research by supporting – through forums, grants, partnerships or white papers – research efforts that have aspects of inter-institutional or inter-disciplinary collaboration, pre-competitive academic-industry partnership or methodological harmonization. SITC also has a robust program to support and develop early-stage researchers. SITC can expand these efforts to enable young investigators with disruptive, translationally-driven research projects that have the potential to enhance our understanding of distinct patterns of tumor and host immunobiology and the best cancer immunotherapy approaches for each.
SITC is also an active partner with many governmental and non-governmental organizations that together have the ability to drive policy and practice around the rational development and approval of novel immunotherapy regimens. SITC should continue to advance its voice and vision in the policy arena, driving alignment and messaging with partners. These efforts will ultimately support the development of clinical trial infrastructure and novel regulatory paradigms that will enhance patient participation in immunotherapy trials and shorten the time that it takes to get beneficial, novel regimens to the right patients.
SITC is on the forefront of healthcare provider and patient education, demystifying cancer immunotherapy, and providing detailed practice guidelines to healthcare providers and institutions. SITC can increase the bi-directionality of these interactions, using these relationships to better understand immunotherapy utilization and real-world patient outcomes. Together, these efforts will integrate SITC end-to-end into the research and practice of combination and precision cancer immunotherapy and make SITC a critical driver of such efforts well into the future.