Douglas McNeel, MD, PhD is Professor of Medicine with tenure at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is a genitourinary medical oncologist with a laboratory and clinical research program that has focused on prostate cancer immunology for nearly 20 years. Specifically, his research laboratory has sought to identify immunologically recognized proteins of the prostate, characterize these as tumor target antigens, evaluate anti-tumor genetic vaccines in appropriate rodent models, and translate these findings to early phase human clinical trials. His lab has specifically focused on DNA vaccines as T cell activating therapies with research aimed at understanding their mechanism of action and mechanisms of resistance. He holds many patents and investigational new drug applications and has written and conducted multiple investigator-initiated clinical trials to pursue translational directions identified by his laboratory. His team has recently identified that specific T cell checkpoint inhibition, when used with DNA vaccines, can lead to substantial anti-tumor responses in mice and patients with advanced disease. He has mentored over 40 trainees in his research laboratory and many more in clinical and translational research. This work has been supported by multiple grants from the DOD Prostate Cancer Research Program, National Cancer Institute and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. He previously served as co-leader of the Experimental Therapeutics program for the UW Carbone Cancer Center and currently serves as their Director of Solid Tumor Immunology Research. On a national level, Dr. McNeel is a member of multiple professional societies, including AACR and ASCO, and has served on multiple grant review panels including those for the NIH and DOD. He has been a member of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) for over 10 years and has served on multiple boards and committees including the executive board as an ad hoc member, fellowship review committee, Cancer Immunotherapy Guidelines Oversight Committee and the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer (JITC) editorial board.
What are the two or three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy?
I believe there are several key issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy. The first are a series of related issues pertaining to the clinical development of cancer immunotherapies and combination therapies. With the tremendous expansion of available immunotherapy agents and approaches over the last several years and the knowledge, that optimally some will require their use in combination with other agents, how do we strategically and most efficiently evaluate combination therapies in clinical trials? Related to this, we need to consider new clinical trial designs and methods of trial analysis that could permit a more rapid evaluation of combination therapies. Such designs should also better account for delayed clinical benefit and prolonged stable disease that have been observed with many immunotherapy agents. Another issue is the continuing need for immunotherapy biomarkers, both as predictors of clinical response but also as markers of biological activity, to be able to best assess combination approaches with shorter-term endpoints. Finally, the cost of many agents precludes the possibility that some combination therapies will be a viable option in the future. Given national challenges with rising health care costs, we need to address this issue head on.
A second critical issue for the field relates to training. Given the rapid expansion of this field in just a few years, we need to continue to train physicians and other providers in the clinical use of available immunotherapies. There also remains a large need to train highly competent laboratory investigators and clinical researchers with focus on cancer immunotherapy for academia and industry.
What is your vision for SITC?
My vision for SITC is that it be the leading professional society voice for cancer immunotherapy. SITC should be the, “one stop,” society for disseminating high-quality immunotherapy research, educating researchers, physicians and other care providers, and facilitating global immunotherapy initiatives. In addition, SITC should be the primary society facilitating exchange among researchers, physicians, industry and regulatory bodies in matters related to cancer immunotherapy.