Sandra Demaria, MD, a native of Turin, Italy, obtained her MD from the University of Turin, and then moved to New York for her post-doctoral training in immunology as a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fund awardee, followed by a residency in anatomic pathology at NYU School of Medicine (NYU SoM). She remained on the faculty at NYU SoM until 2015, rising to the rank of professor. She is currently professor of radiation oncology and pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Dr. Demaria is internationally known for her studies – demonstrating the synergy of local radiation therapy with immunotherapy in pre-clinical models of cancer. She was the first to show that radiotherapy can convert tumors unresponsive to immune checkpoint inhibitors into responsive ones, a finding being translated in several clinical trials at multiple institutions. Her lab has a central interest in addressing the molecular mechanisms that regulate ionizing radiation’s ability to generate an in situ tumor vaccine in both preclinical tumor models as well as cancer patients treated in clinical trials testing various combinations of radiation and immunotherapy. As a breast cancer pathologist Dr. Demaria also studies the immunological microenvironment of breast cancer in patients, and therapeutic strategies to modulate the immune infiltrate in preclinical breast cancer models and in patients. She has authored more than 100 articles and has received awards from the American Cancer Society, the Department of Defense CDMRP, NCI, and several private foundations. She has been an active participant in the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) since 2008, serving as a strategic task force member, faculty for the workshop, annual meeting and several educational ACI events. She also served as an organizer for the 2015 annual meeting, and served as SITC at-large director from 2014 to 2017. She recently became section co-editor for JITC’s reviews section.
SITC Election Platform Statement
What are the two or three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy?
- In the last few years immunotherapy has transformed cancer care with immune checkpoint inhibitors becoming a standard of care for a growing list of tumor types and stages. The success of these agents has generated increasing expectations in the patients and public at large. The challenge for researchers and clinicians is to keep up this fast pace of progress. Innovative basic research, as well as innovative clinical studies that incorporate mechanistic questions and biomarker discovery are needed to improve the results for the patients who do not currently benefit from immunotherapy.
- The bar for success is higher for upcoming and future immunotherapy agents. Specifically, increased life expectancy may expose chronic toxicities of immunotherapy, which will become more important and less acceptable to patients.
- The cost of treatment and the investments required to support research and development of new immunotherapies are critical issues for the progress of the field, and they need to be addressed at multiple levels. Advocacy for science and medical research and constructive partnerships between government, private foundations, academia and industry are essential. In a time of increasing public polarization stakeholders need the help of honest brokers to organize the efforts without hindrance from perceived partisanship.
What is your vision for SITC?
SITC has rapidly grown, and will continue to grow. It is critical that the society maintains its unique identity, while taking on new tasks. I believe that SITC is positioned to lead the efforts needed to address the critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy. It has already demonstrated leadership in education, biomarker discovery, and has provided a forum for discussion between the different stakeholders. These areas will remain priorities in the near future.
In addition, the society needs to remain deeply invested in basic science and innovation, which are essential to progress. This includes initiatives to attract scientists working on basic immunology and on other disciplines to attend the annual meeting and become SITC members, partnering with other Societies, and developing funding initiatives that support basic science projects.
SITC should continue to promote forward thinking initiatives with big impact on the next generation of investigators. Most PhD and MD programs do not prepare young investigators to work in large teams that include multidisciplinary multi-institutional collaborators, while such teams are increasingly required to address emerging questions in cancer immunotherapy. Initiatives like SITC Sparkathon provide unique opportunities to young investigators to learn how to work together and reach out beyond the confines of their lab or institution (or country) for the resources needed to address critical research questions. They will also foster the same sense of community that has shaped SITC for the past 30 years for the new generations. This is an important identity-defining quality of SITC, especially at a time when large societies like ASCO and AACR have embraced immunotherapy.
Finally, SITC should extend and reinforce its reach outside of the US, to become a point of reference for the entire cancer immunotherapy community across the world. The expertise of SITC members from different countries can be leveraged to identify areas of need and opportunity.