Meet-the-Expert Lunch

A Pre-Conference Program; additional registration is required.

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022

11:45 a.m.–1:15 p.m. EST*


*Times and program schedule subject to change.

Program Organizers

  • David H. Aggen, MD, PhD – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

  • Aitziber Buque Martinez, PhD – Weil Cornell Medicine

  • Zachary A. Cooper, PhD – AstraZeneca

  • Brendan L. Horton, PhD – Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Jessica D. Mackert, PhD  – Wake Forest University

  • Abigail E. Overacre-Delgoffe, PhD – University of Pittsburgh


Target Audience

The audience for Meet-the-Expert Lunch includes graduate, medical, and post-baccalaureate students; clinical fellows; post-doctoral fellows; tenure-track investigators, government employees, and scientists in general; and industry/pharma scientists and employees. Space for this event is limited and priority will be given to early career scientists.


Program Description

The Meet-the-Expert Lunch will focus on unique issues related to early career scientist career development and will provide attendees the opportunity to interact with experts in key areas of immunotherapy. The Meet-the-Expert Lunch will address different relevant topics in a setting that fosters attendee/expert interactions and provides networking opportunities with leaders in the field. Experts will answer questions and lead informal dialogue to help provide guidance and career advancement advice. This year, there will be two experts at each table. 


Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this activity, participants should be able to:

  • Address most of their open questions and concerns on the selected topic

  • Make informed decisions about their career development and research projects

  • Establish connections with experts in their field of interest


Table Topics

  • Diversity

    • Robyn Gartrell, MD – Columbia University

    • Utthara Nayar, PhD – Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

  • Science and Life: Keeping the Balance

    • Susan Rosenthal, PhD – Columbia University

    • Kristen Hege, MD – Bristol Myers Squibb

  • Mentorship Sponsorship

    • Lisa Butterfield, PhD – Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

    • Olivera J. Finn, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

  • How to Navigate the Postdoc to PI Transition

    • Jennifer L. Guerriero, PhD – Brigham and Women's Hospital

    • Marco Ruella, MD – University of Pennsylvania

  • Labratory-Based Translational Research

    • Tullia Bruno, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

    • Roberta Zappasodi, PhD – Weill Cornell Medicine

  • Basic Research (Table 1)

    • Greg Delgoffe, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

    • E. John Wherry, PhD – University of Pennsylvania

  • Career Path: Industry Perspective

    • Alessandra Cesano, MD, PhD – ESSA Pharmaceuticals Inc.

    • Mark Cobbold, PhD – AstraZeneca

  • Small Business Startup

    • Dario A.A. Vignali, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

    • Zhen Su, MD, MBA –  Marengo Therapeutics 

  • Clinical Trials: Building Bridges to Bring Research from the Bench to the Bedside (table 1)

    • Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD – The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • To Postdoc or Not Postdoc: Pros and Cons of a Postdoctoral Position

    • Charles Drake, MD, PhD – Janssen R&D

    • Nicholas Durham, PhD – AstraZeneca 

  • Clinical Trials: Building Bridges to Bring Research from the Bench to the Bedside (table 2)

    • Genevieve M. Boland, MD, PhD - Massachusetts General Hospital

    • Jason Luke, MD, FACP – UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

  • Basic Research (Table 2)

    • Stefani Spranger, PhD – Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

    • Andrea Schietinger, PhD – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

  • Bioinformatics & Big Data

    • Riyue Bao, PhD – UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

    • Kellie Smith, PhD – Johns Hopkins School of Medicine


Program Faculty


Riyue Bao, PhD – UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

Riyue.pngRiyue Bao, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh). Dr. Bao is a member of the Hillman Cancer Center (HCC) Cancer Biology Program and Co-Director of the UPMC HCC Cancer Bioinformatics. Using a combination of multi-omics data integration, machine learning, and computer vision-assisted pathology image recognition, Dr. Bao’s work bridges methodological advances and biomedical applications with a direct impact on accelerating the knowledge discovery to new clinical trials that could benefit patients. Her lab focuses on the data-driven discovery of resistance mechanisms to cancer immunotherapy, with major contributions to the identification of WNT/β-catenin activation as the first tumor-intrinsic mechanism that drives immune exclusion, commensal microbiome as the modulator of anti-PD1 efficacy, and systemic discovery of oncogenic pathways that contribute to the absence of immune infiltration across human solid tumors. Those findings are of particular importance because they provide the scientific rationale to new trials that combine therapeutic targets, such as IDH1 inhibitors, with anti-PD1. Dr. Bao is the Bioinformatics PI in multiple SPOREs, including the Melanoma and Skin Cancer SPORE and Head and Neck Cancer SPORE. She also serves on the Cancer Center Data Science Strategy and Informatics Committees, providing critical advice on data accessibility, analysis, integration, and infrastructure for translational research across the Cancer Center. Dr. Bao is a member of The American Association of Immunologists, Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, and Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention.

Genevieve Boland, MD, PhD – Massachusetts General Hospital

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Genevieve M. Boland, MD, PhD, FACS is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Section Head of Melanoma/Sarcoma Surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Her primary clinical focus is on melanoma and cutaneous oncology. She undertook combined MD/PhD training, completing a PhD in Cell and Tissue Engineering at the National Institutes of Health focusing on signaling pathways in adult, human mesenchymal stem cells.

She graduated cum laude from Thomas Jefferson University as a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society and completed her general surgical training at Massachusetts General Hospital. Following this, she completed a clinical fellowship in Complex General Surgical Oncology and a combined research fellowship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She joined the MGH Division of Surgical Oncology and is focused on the clinical management of skin cancer patients. She is board certified in General Surgery and Complex General Surgical Oncology, and she is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Boland has received many awards including the American Surgical Association Foundation Fellowship, the Association of Women Surgeons Research Fellowship, the Harvard Catalyst Medical Research Investigator Training Award, the Karin Grunebaum Cancer Foundation Fellowship, and the Society of Surgical Oncology Clinical Investigator Award. She is Director of the Surgical Oncology Research Laboratories and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Her laboratory is currently focused on molecular profiling of melanoma, characterization of molecular and immunological changes that occur during immunotherapy, and the identification of circulating biomarkers of cancer.

Tullia Bruno, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

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Tullia C. Bruno, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh and a faculty member in the Cancer Immunology Program and Tumor Microenvironment Center at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. She obtained her B.S. in Chemistry in 2005 from Vanderbilt University, where she received a full academic scholarship. She obtained her PhD in Immunology from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 2010 and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado and National Jewish Health in 2015—both with a focus in tumor immunology.

While Dr. Bruno’s PhD training focused on inhibitory receptors on intratumoral CD8+ and CD4+ T cells, she became interested in tumor infiltrating B cells (TIL- B) during her postdoctoral fellowship and has built her independent research program around understanding their function in multiple human cancers, in particular, lung and head and neck cancer. Dr. Bruno’s overall research objective is to develop a TIL-B-specific immunotherapy in the next five to ten years.


Lisa Butterfield, PhD – Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

Butterfield.pngLisa H. Butterfield, Ph.D. is the Vice President, PICI Research and Development at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and an Adjunct Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, University California San Francisco. She is focused on cancer vaccines and cellular therapies for melanoma, hepatocellular cancer and other tumor types. Dr. Butterfield was most recently Professor of Medicine, Surgery, Immunology and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh (2003-2018) and Director of the Hillman Cancer Center Immunologic Monitoring and Cellular Products Laboratory. She has a PhD in Biology from UCLA, followed by postdoctoral fellowships in Cellular Immunology and Cancer Gene Therapy also at UCLA. She was the President of the Society of Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC, 2017-2018) and a member of the SITC Executive Committee (2015-2020). She led the Immunology Reference Lab for the ECOG-ACRIN NCI cooperative group (2006-2018) and collaborates on biomarker studies in many clinical trials. She investigates immunotherapy for hepatocellular cancer and melanoma, involving peptides, dendritic cells and adenoviruses, and effector responses to tumor antigens. She has published over 170 peer-reviewed manuscripts, reviews and book chapters, and mentored over 20 students and postdocs. She is a co-Editor of the SITC textbook “Cancer Immunotherapy: Principles and Practice” 1st and 2nd editions.

Mark Cobbold, PhD – AstraZeneca


Alessandra Cesano, MD, PhD – ESSA Pharma Inc.

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Dr. Cesano is ESSA’s Chief Medical Officer. Prior to joining ESSA, Dr. Cesano served as Chief Medical Officer at NanoString Inc., focusing on the development of translational and diagnostic multi-plexed assays for the characterization and measurement of mechanisms of immune response and resistance. Previously, Dr. Cesano was the Chief Medical Officer at Cleave Biosciences, Inc., and Nodality, Inc. Throughout her career, Dr. Cesano has held various management positions at Amgen, Biogen Idec and SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, where she helped advance various oncology drugs through late-stage development and FDA approvals.

Early in her professional career, Dr. Cesano spent 12 years conducting research in tumor immunology, including nine years at the Wistar Institute, an NCI Basic Cancer Center connected with the University of Pennsylvania, and she has authored over 100 publications. Dr. Cesano received an M.D. summa cum laude, a Board Certification in Oncology and a Ph.D. in Tumor Immunology from the University of Turin.


Greg Delgoffe, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

Delgoffe.pngGreg M. Delgoffe, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained his Ph.D from Johns Hopkins in 2010 and completed postdoctoral training a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. His research focuses on metabolic regulation of T cell function, with a specific focus on that antitumor immunity that takes place within the tumor microenvironment. His lab has found that T cells that infiltrate tumors have striking metabolic defects that can be corrected to improve antitumor immunity and response to immunotherapy. Further, studies from the Delgoffe lab suggest that measurement of tumor microenvironment metabolism, the deregulated energetics driven by tumor growth, is not only an indicator of immunotherapeutic response but a target to improve the efficacy of immunotherapeutic treatments.

Charles Drake, MD, PhD – Janssen R&D

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Charles (Chuck) Drake, M.D., Ph.D. is Vice President, Immuno-oncology (I-O) at Janssen Research & Development, LLC.  In this position, he is responsible for leading the I-O team to further enhance the scientific strategy required to deliver the portfolio of I-O and cell-based oncology therapeutics, as well as building a robust pipeline of next-generation compounds.  Chuck is a physician-scientist whose research and clinical activities have focused on understanding the biology of immune cells in the tumor microenvironment and translating those findings into cutting-edge clinical trials in the study of patients with prostate, kidney and bladder cancer.

Prior to joining Janssen Research & Development, Chuck led the genitourinary oncology program at the Herbert Irving Cancer Center, Columbia University Medical Center, New York Presbyterian Hospital. He was also named the Milstein Family Professor of Medicine and Urology and served as the Associate Director for Clinical Research at the cancer center.

Chuck founded Columbia’s Human Immune Monitoring Core, which provides state-of-the-art analytic technologies for the study of human cancer. At Columbia University, he and his colleagues built a strong portfolio of more than 30 immunotherapy trials, including a number of first-in-human studies in patients with prostate genitourinary cancers, many based on his laboratory research. Previously, he served as the Co-director of the Cancer Immunology Program at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Chuck received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University. He earned his medical degree from the University of Colorado Medical Science Training Program and received his doctorate in Immunology from the National Jewish Research Center. Chuck completed his residency through the Osler Medical Residency Training Program at Johns Hopkins and finished his fellowship in Medical Oncology at Johns Hopkins as well. He is board-certified in medical oncology.


Nicholas Durham, PhD – AstraZeneca

Nick Durham received his PhD from the Johns Hopkins University where he studied T cell immunology focusing on LAG-3 checkpoint blockade. Since entering the pharmaceutical industry, Nick has worked on a wide variety of immune oncology drugs targeting the adenosine pathway, TNF signaling molecules, oncolytic viruses, and CAR-T therapies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his team also supported interventional therapeutic COVID-19 trials and preventative vaccination trials. Currently Nick leads a team of 3 translational medicine scientists that run biomarker strategies for 11 drugs across the AZ oncology pipeline.

Olivera Finn, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

Olivera.pngDr. Finn is University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor of Immunology and Surgery and Founding Chair of the Department of Immunology, the position she held from 2001 to 2013. She was Program Leader of the Cancer Immunology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute from 1991 to 2014.

After receiving her PhD in Immunology at Stanford University in 1980, and completing her postdoctoral training there in 1982, Dr. Finn moved to Duke University and in 1991 to the University of Pittsburgh. She gained prominence through her original focus on transplantation biology and later through her basic and applied research focused on tumor antigens and the development of cancer vaccines.

Her current efforts are on the development of preventative cancer vaccines. Dr. Finn is an active member of the American Association of Immunologists, where she served as President in 2007-2008. She is also member of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC). She has served on NCI study sections and was a member of the NCI Board of Councilors. She has trained 25 PhD and MD/PhD students in her laboratory and over 70 postdoctoral fellows. Dr. Finn is the recipient of the AAI Lifetime Achievement Award, the NCI Outstanding Investigator Award, the AACR CIR Lloyd Old Cancer Immunology Prize and the SITC Richard V. Smalley Memorial Award, a prestigious award for clinicians and scientists who have an enormous impact on cancer immunotherapy research.

Robyn Gartrell, MD – Columbia University

Robyn.pngDr. Gartrell is a Pediatric Oncologist and early investigator in Immunooncology and Precision Medicine inspired to use advances in the science of tumor immunology to develop more effective and more personalized therapies specifically for children.









Jennifer Guerriero, PhD – Brigham and Women's Hospital

Jennifer.pngDr. Guerriero is a Lead Investigator at Brigham and Women's Hospital and serves as the Director of the Breast Tumor Immunology Laboratory at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Guerriero received her Bachelor’s degree in BioChemistry from Northeastern University and has a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Immunology and Pathology from Stony Brook University where she trained under Dr. Wei-Xing Zong and completed her thesis entitled, “A study of cell death pathways and innate immunity in cancer chemotherapy”. Dr. Guerriero completed her postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Anthony Letai at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where she investigated the role of tumor macrophages in breast cancer and identified novel mechanisms to target pro-tumor macrophages to an anti-tumor phenotype to induce tumor regression.

Dr. Guerriero's laboratory focuses on harnessing the anti-tumor potential of tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) for cancer immunotherapy in triple negative breast cancers. Her lab studies both their role in promoting tumorogenesis as well as how to harness macrophages for cancer therapy. Further mechanistic understanding of how TAMs regulate their phenotype and how they may contribute to resistance to T cell-mediated immunotherapy will have great therapeutic benefit. The major goals of Dr. Guerriero’s work are to elucidate the molecular and functional regulation of tumor macrophage phenotype and subsets, identify how tumor macrophages inhibit T cell function and limit the effectiveness of immunotherapy and identify novel strategies to target macrophages therapeutically.

Kristen Hege, MD – Bristol Myers Squibb

Kristen.pngDr. Hege is SVP, Early Clinical Development, Hematology/Oncology & Cell Therapy at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) where she is responsible for advancing a pipeline of small molecules, biologics and cell therapies from first-in-human studies through clinical proof-of-concept. In addition, she led the bluebird-partnered BCMA CART cell program (ide-cel; Abecma) in multiple myeloma from inception through FDA approval earlier this year. Prior to joining BMS she was head of Translational Development at Celgene and has held multiple executive roles in biotech at Cell Genesys, Cellerant, and Theraclone.


In addition to her work at BMS, Dr. Hege is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF where she continues to see patients with blood cancers weekly. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Mersana Therapeutics and Graphite Bio and was elected to the Board of Directors for the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) for a 3-year term from 2016-2019.

Dr. Hege received her M.D. at UCSF and internal medicine residency and hematology/oncology subspecialty training at Harvard and UCSF, respectively. She was recognized by Fierce Biotech as one of the top 12 women in Biopharma in 2015, by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association as a “Luminary” in 2019, by San Francisco Business Times as one of the most influential women in Bay Area business in 2021 and most recently as a PharmVOICE100 honoree. Her career path and long history with CAR T cell development was featured as part of the 25th anniversary celebration of Nature Medicine.

Jason Luke, MD, FACP – University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

Jason.pngJason J. Luke, M.D., F.A.C.P. is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Hillman Cancer Center where he is the Director of the Cancer Immunotherapeutics Center. Dr. Luke specializes in the management of patients with melanoma and early phase drug development (particularly novel immunotherapeutics and biomarkers of immunotherapy activity). Dr. Luke has been a lead national investigator on clinical trials of immunotherapy agents including but not limited to anti-PD1/L1, CTLA4, LAG3, TIM3, GITR, OX40, CD137, CD40, inhibitors of indolamine-dioxygenase (IDO), adenosine A2a receptor and arginase as well as agonists of STING and oncolytic virus. Dr. Luke’s major research translational research is focused on using large scale informatics to advance the field of cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Luke received his M.D. from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago. He then pursued internship and residency at the Boston University Medical Center followed by medicine and medical oncology fellowships at Weill Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Following fellowship, Dr. Luke was a tenure-track, Type 1 Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School as well as Staff Physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Thereafter Dr. Luke was an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago. Dr. Luke is actively involved in several professional societies including the Society for Melanoma Research, the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Dr. Luke has served as the chair of the education committee and as a member of the scientific committee for the melanoma track of the ASCO annual meeting. Dr. Luke has received several awards for research and clinical care including the Melanoma Research Foundation Humanitarian Award, Crain’s 40 under 40, Department of Defense Career Development Award, Paul Calabresi Career Development in Clinical Oncology Award (K12), ASCO Merit Award as well as Young Investigator Awards from the Melanoma Research Alliance, the Cancer Research Foundation and the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO. Dr. Luke’s research has been supported by ASCO, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the National Cancer Institute.

Susan Rosenthal, PhD – Columbia University

05_Rosenthal_01.jpgSusan L. Rosenthal, PhD, ABPP has more than 30 years of experience as a pediatric psychologist. She is a Tenured Professor of Medical Psychology (in Pediatrics and Psychiatry) and Vice Chair of Faculty Development within the Department of Pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, completed her internship at the University of Maryland and her post-doctoral training at the Yale Child Study Center. Previous academic appointments were at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Dr. Rosenthal’s clinical research has focused on the promotion of sexual health and vaccine acceptability. She uses both qualitative and quantitative methodologies and has had extramural funding from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations. Dr. Rosenthal also has presented and published on the development of leadership skills, the issues in mentoring in diverse relationships, and the use of faculty reviews to promote the growth of the faculty and the department. She has served as a consultant on adolescent health to industry and groups such as the World Health Organization, and has consulted on faculty development to other academic institutions and organizations. Her scholarly work has resulted in over 200 publications.

Dr. Rosenthal has held leadership positions in the American Psychological Association, Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Society of Adolescent Medicine, and North American Society of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. Dr. Rosenthal was selected for the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program (2005-2006) and the Society for Adolescent Medicine Iris F. Litt Visiting Professorship in Adolescent Health Research (2006). In 2021, Dr. Rosenthal won the Bud Orgel Award for Distinguished Achievement in Research from the Association of Psychologists in Academic Health Care Centers.

Marco Ruella, MD – University of Pennsylvania

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Dr. Ruella obtained his medical degree with high honors at the University of Torino, Italy, in 2007, and completed his specialization in clinical hematology in 2012. He worked as attending physician at the Hematology and Cell Therapy Division of the Mauriziano Hospital and was instructor at the Biotechnology School at the University of Torino. In 2012 he started his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in the Center for Cellular immunotherapies under the mentorship of Drs. Carl June and Saar Gill. Dr. Ruella is now Clinical Instructor and the Associate Director of Dr. June’s laboratory. His research is focused on the mechanisms of relapse after chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CART) immunotherapies with goal of rationally design innovative combined immunotherapies for relapsing/refractory leukemia and lymphoma. Dr. Ruella was awarded the inaugural SITC EMD-Serono Cancer Immunotherapy Clinical Fellowship (2014), the AACR-BMS Oncology Fellowship in Clinical Cancer Research (2015), the ASH Scholar Award (2016) and a NIH K99-R00 award (2017). He was also selected as ASH CRTI fellow in 2015 and ISCT/ASBMT CTTC scholar in 2015. Dr. Ruella is author of several peer-reviewed publications on targeted immunotherapies for hematological cancers and is inventor in five patents on CART therapy.


Andrea Schietinger, PhD – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Andrea Schietinger, PhD is an Associate Member of the Immunology Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Schietinger aims to understand when, why, and how T cells become unresponsive to tumors. Her lab utilizes genetic cancer mouse models that mimic cancer development in patients to define the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms that are responsible for the failure to control and eliminate tumors. More recently, her lab has been interested to understand how T cells differentiate during the onset of autoimmunity such as Type 1 Diabetes, and specifically how the autoimmune T cell response is initiate and maintained. Dr. Schietinger received her PhD from the University of Chicago and University of Munich and conducted her postdoctoral training at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. She joined Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in 2015.

 
Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD – The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

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Dr. Sharma is a nationally and internationally renowned physician scientist whose research work is focused on investigating mechanisms and pathways within the immune system that facilitate tumor rejection or elicit resistance to immune checkpoint therapy. She is a trained medical oncologist and immunologist and the T.C. and Jeanette D. Hsu Endowed Chair in Cell Biology. In 2006, she designed and conducted the first neoadjuvant (pre-surgical) trial, also known as a window-of-opportunity trial, with immune checkpoint therapy (anti-CTLA-4), which allowed her to establish safety of the neoadjuvant approach for immune checkpoint therapy as well as provide tumor tissues for her translational research work. She studied the impact of immune checkpoint therapy on the human tumor samples and she identified the ICOS/ICOSL pathway as a novel target for cancer immunotherapy strategies. The neoadjuvant clinical trial in 2006 was also the first trial with immune checkpoint therapy in patients with bladder cancer. The clinical data indicated that 25% of patients had significant anti-tumor responses with pathologic complete responses. These data led Dr. Sharma to conduct additional clinical trials with immune checkpoint therapy for patients with bladder cancer, with eventual FDA-approval for patients with metastatic bladder cancer. Dr. Sharma continues to design innovative trials to evaluate human immune responses to different immunotherapies and she is the Principal Investigator for multiple immunotherapy clinical trials that focus on translational laboratory studies. Her studies have identified novel resistance mechanisms, which enable development of rational combination immunotherapy strategies for the treatment of cancer patients. She is a Professor in the departments of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology, and the Scientific Director for the Immunotherapy Platform at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. She is also the Co-Director of Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) and received the Emil Frei III Award for Excellence in Translational Research in 2016 and the Coley Award for Distinguished Research for Tumor Immunology in 2018.

Kellie Smith, PhD – Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

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Kellie N. Smith, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Oncology in the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Dr. Smith completed her doctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine under the direction of Dr. Charles R. Rinaldo with a focus on T cell immunology and immunotherapy. During her fellowship training at Johns Hopkins, she worked under the mentorship of Dr. Drew M. Pardoll identifying correlates of response to anti-PD-1 immunotherapy in patients with multiple tumor histologies, with a specific emphasis on early and advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer. She joined the faculty in early 2016 and has since collaborated with many clinicians within Johns Hopkins and at outside institutions on immunotherapy clinical trials aimed at improving treatment options, preventing disease recurrence, and understanding the predictors of response to treatment in both early and advanced stage disease.

Dr. Smith’s group developed a novel technique to detect anti-tumor T cells using a liquid biopsy approach. This technique, termed MANAFEST (mutation associated neoantigen functional expansion of specific T-cells), is being used to monitor responses to mutation associated neoantigens, endogenous retroviruses, tumor associated antigens, and viral antigens. This approach has been used to identify neoantigen-specific responses in lung cancer patients with acquired resistance to checkpoint blockade and in colorectal cancer patients with durable clinical benefit to anti-PD-1. More recently, this approach was able to show for the first time that neoantigen-specific T cells are amplified in the periphery following neoadjuvant PD-1 blockade and that these responses may facilitate tumor regression and prevent relapse after surgical resection. Ongoing work includes the bioinformatic analysis of data generated from the MANAFEST assay and interrogation of how combination checkpoint blockade treatment regimens augment anti-tumor immunity. This work will elucidate predictive biomarkers of response to checkpoint blockade and will help stratify patients most likely to benefit from these treatments.

Stefani Spranger, PhD – Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

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Stefani Spranger received her B.S./ M.S. from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and continued her doctoral work there under Professor Dolores J. Schendel at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Munich, Institute for Molecular Immunology, receiving her Ph.D. in 2011. She completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Chicago in the laboratory of Professor Thomas F. Gajewski. During this period, she was supported by the German Research Foundation postdoctoral fellowship and subsequently received the Irvington postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the Cancer Research Institute. In 2017, she joined the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Department of Biology at MIT as an Assistant Professor of Biology at MIT. She is a Forbeck scholar. The labs primary interest is in understanding the underlying mechanisms of the interactions between tumor and immune cells, with the goal to understand mechanisms of immune evasion and develop therapies allowing more patients to benefit from immunotherapy.


Zhen Su, MD, MBA – Marengo Therapeutics

As CEO of Marengo Therapeutics and a director of the company’s board, Zhen Su brings more than two decades of experience as a physician-scientist and life sciences business executive, with expertise in successfully building and leading both R&D and commercial organizations. As head of Global Oncology for Merck KGaA, he led the franchise’s turnaround, scaling it to achieve double-digit organic growth and a topline above €1B, and executing business development deals with Pfizer ($2.8B) and GSK ($4.2B) and a licensing agreement with Debiopharm ($1.1B). Earlier, as chief medical officer of EMD Serono and head of its Global Oncology Medical division, he played an instrumental role in eight major regulatory approvals in different indications for Bavencio®, Tepmetko®, Erbitux®, and Mavenclad®. Prior to joining Merck KGaA in 2015, he held R&D and commercial leadership roles at Sanofi Oncology and GSK. Before his industry career, Dr. Su served on the faculties of Duke University Medical Center, where he led early clinical studies on mRNA-based immunotherapy and cell-based anti-cancer treatment, and then the University of Florida, where he was the director of the Cell and Gene Therapy program. He is the author of more than 60 publications in immuno-oncology and targeted oncology. Dr. Su earned his M.D. from the Technical University of Dresden, completed his post-doctoral training in tumor immunology at Duke University Medical Center, and received an MBA from the University of Toronto.


Dario Vignali, PhD – University of Pittsburgh

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Dr. Vignali began his academic career at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where he became Vice Chair and Full Professor. In 2014, Dr. Vignali moved to the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine to become Vice Chair and Professor of Immunology, and the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center to become Co-Leader of the Cancer Immunology Program and Co-Director of the Tumor Microenvironment Center. Dr. Vignali’s research focuses on gaining a better understanding of the inhibitory mechanisms, including inhibitory receptors and regulatory T cells, that limit anti-tumor immunity in cancer and are insufficient in autoimmune disease. He also has discovery-based programs aimed at identifying novel targets for therapeutic intervention. He also works with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center scientists and clinicians to facilitate the translation of novel therapeutic modalities with a focus on immunologically impacted solid tumors (primarily head and neck, melanoma, lung, ovarian, breast). His UPMC Hillman Cancer Center leadership efforts, in part as co-leader of the Cancer Immunology & Immunotherapy Program, are directed toward providing a bridge between basic and transitional cancer immunology. Lastly, he also works extensively with large and start-up biopharmaceutical companies to bring novel therapeutics to the clinic. Dr. Vignali has published 205 papers and has strong grant support (R35, P01, 2 R01s, plus other sources). He has received multiple honors: Highly Cited Researcher 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 (top 1% by citations - Web of Science, Clarivate Analytics); The Robert and Janice Compton Research Grant, In Honor of Elizabeth S. Compton from the JDRF, the 2007 Faculty Mentoring Award from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the 2018 Merril J. Egorin Excellence in Scientific Leadership Award and the 2019 PNC Elsie Hillman Distinguished Scholar Award. Dr. Vignali serves/has served as a member of: the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) (1998-present); Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) (2013-present); American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) (2016-present); Permanent Member-NIH Cell Mediated Immunity Study Section A (CMI-A) (2005-2009); The Journal of Immunology-Section Editor (2008-2012); Cancer Immunology Research-Commissioning Deputy Editor (2016-2018).

E. John Wherry, PhD – University of Pennsylvania

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Dr. E. John Wherry is the Barbara and Richard Schiffrin President’s Distinguished Professor, Chair of the Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics in the Perelman School of Medicine and Director of the UPenn Institute for Immunology. Dr. Wherry received his Ph.D. at Thomas Jefferson University in 2000 and performed postdoctoral research at Emory University from 2000-2004. Dr. Wherry has received numerous honors including the Distinguished Alumni award from the Thomas Jefferson University and the Cancer Research Institute’s Frederick W. Alt Award for New Discoveries in Immunology. Dr. Wherry has over 260 publications, an H-Index of 110, and his publications have been cited over 67,000 times.

Dr. Wherry helped pioneered the field of T cell exhaustion, the mechanisms by which T cell responses are attenuated during chronic infections and cancer. He helped identify the role of the “checkpoint” molecule PD-1 and others for reinvigoration of exhausted T cells in cancer. Dr. Wherry’s work has defined the underlying molecular and epigenetic mechanisms of exhausted T cells. His laboratory has also recently focused on applying systems immunology approaches to define Immune Health patients across a spectrum of diseases. In 2020-2021, Dr. Wherry’s laboratory focused considerable efforts on the immunology of COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 vaccination including establishing a new Immune Health Project to interrogate and use immune features to identify novel treatment opportunities.

Roberta Zappasodi, PhD – Weill Cornell Medicine

Roberta_Zappasodi.jpgRoberta Zappasodi is an Assistant Professor of Hematology in Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology of the Department of Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College (New York, NY) and Visiting Investigator at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK, New York, NY). The overarching goal of her lab is to improve the understanding of the mechanisms underlying resistance to cancer immunotherapy. Specifically, her team is focused on investigating immunosuppressive CD4+ T-cell subsets and the way these cells interact with B cells and impact on B-cell function in response to immunotherapy with immune checkpoint blockade. In addition, she is investigating how tumor metabolism modulates the microenvironment to retain immunosuppressive and/or dysfunctional T cells and exclude effector T cells. She primarily studies these mechanisms in the setting of solid tumors, where the immune system and the neoplastic disease are two distinct tissue entities and aims to extend these observations to B-cell lymphomas, where the malignant disease occurs in the immune system itself.

Dr. Zappasodi’s work has contributed candidate biomarkers of immune and anti-tumor activity of immunotherapy and a deepened understanding of the mechanisms of action of immune checkpoint blockade therapy.

She is a Bridge Fellow in the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. Dr. Zappasodi completed her PhD in Tumor Immunology/Immunotherapy at the National Cancer Institute of Milan (Milan, Italy) and was the recipient of a Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Scholar Award during her post-doctoral training at MSK in the Wolchok/Merghoub group.

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