Patrick Hwu, MD, serves as head of the division of cancer medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The division comprises one of the largest medical oncology practices and clinical trial engines in the country, with 15 departments, 10 centers, 2,720 faculty and staff, approximately 500,000 patient visits annually, and over 6,000 patients accrued to clinical trials each year. Dr. Hwu earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, trained in internal medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and in medical oncology at the National Cancer Institute. He was a principal investigator at the National Cancer Institute, where he helped initiate the field of chimeric antigen receptor T-cells (CAR-T) and other strategies of gene-modified T-cell; areas that are highly relevant today in academia and the pharmaceutical industry. In 2003, Dr. Hwu was recruited to MD Anderson as the inaugural chair of the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology, and has since been appointed chair of the Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology in addition to his division head role. Dr. Hwu has also served as co-director of the institution’s Center for Cancer Immunology Research since 2004. As part of his institutional leadership duties, he serves as co-chair of the Division Heads, a group comprised of all MD Anderson division heads as well as the chief medical, academic, and nursing officers.
As an internationally recognized leader in tumor immunology, Dr. Hwu focuses on the areas of vaccines, adoptive T-cell therapies, and immune resistance. His research and clinical efforts have led to insights and advances in the understanding of the interactions between tumors and the immune system, and he has contributed to the development of cellular therapies for cancer. He is the principal investigator on several NIH R01 translational immunotherapy grants, and other peer-reviewed grants. Several ongoing clinical trials have resulted based on his group’s work, including a trial of T-cells gene-modified to enhance resistance against TGF- β. Most recently, his preclinical studies have focused on combinations of immune checkpoint blockade and T-cell therapy, as well as rational combinations of targeted therapies and immunotherapies.
Dr. Hwu serves on a number of scientific advisory boards for major companies and cancer centers including Sanofi, MedImmune, and GSK as well as the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Virginia Cancer Center, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, Columbia University Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Yale University Cancer Center. He has over 250 peer-reviewed publications (H-index > 65). He has strong relationships in both academia and industry, and has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for the past 14 years. He has been a long-standing faculty member of the institution’s Graduate School of Biological Sciences, and has mentored dozens of graduate and post-doctoral students, fellows, and junior faculty. He is an editor for the Journal for Immunotherapy, and recently served as the leader of the American Association for Cancer Research Cancer Immunology Working Group.
SITC Election Platform Statement
What are the two or three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy?
The field of immunotherapy is extremely exciting, yielding durable responses in a number of patients. However, overcoming the challenges ahead, including the need to induce responses in a larger proportion of patients and overcome immunoresistance, requires training the next generation of immunotherapists and enabling enhanced collaboration among multiple stakeholders. SITC can be the leading organization in accomplishing these goals and ensuring that the largest possible number of patients benefit from these novel therapies. I find there to be three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy today.
- The need to increase immunotherapy response rates across all cancers. Although immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer therapeutics, much work remains to be done. Response rates to immunotherapy are low for the majority of cancers. A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the lack of initial response is critical for us to enable durable responses to immunotherapy for more types of cancers. In addition, we need to have a more thorough understanding of the mechanisms of resistance in patients who initially respond, but later regress. This critical issue will only be solved with strong translational research and close collaborations between academia and industry.
- An insufficient number of investigators trained in immunotherapy. We remain behind in the supply of basic and translational researchers trained in immunology and immunotherapy. This is a critical issue that is currently rate-limiting progress in the field. Young investigators often face funding challenges in pursuing careers in research due to low initial pay lines and other perceived economic obstacles. We need to speed our progress in engaging and supporting the growth and development of new investigators entering the field.
- The inability to scale immunotherapies to the general population. While many therapies such as CAR-T cells have resulted in impressive response rates and FDA approvals, there still remain a number of challenges regarding the scalability of these therapies, as well as currently unacceptable high costs. Beside T-cell therapies, scalability and cost are also limiting factors for other exciting immunotherapy approaches such as personalized cancer vaccines. We need to develop methodologies to decrease the cost of these treatments and reduce the timelines for patients to begin treatment with these potentially lifesaving therapies.
What is your vision for SITC?
My vision for SITC is to enable the creation of widely-available, highly-effective immunotherapies to treat all types of cancers. Specifically, SITC can lead the field in overcoming current issues in developing immunotherapies by:
- Raising money to seed critical collaborative research projects by continuing to grow the Forward Fund and other mechanisms, and to enhance fundraising efforts to enable collaborative grants addressing critical questions as well as funding the work of young investigators.
- Emphasizing training programs for young investigators as well as for established investigators to shift their careers toward immunotherapy. To meet the need for more investigators in the field of immunotherapy, sponsorship of formalized training programs is of the utmost importance. Additionally, these training efforts should attract individuals from other fields, such as computational informatics, into immunotherapy to accelerate research efforts. SITC can be the organization to bring such diverse fields together to conquer current and future challenges in creating novel immunotherapies.
- Solving issues of scalability regarding novel immunotherapies by assembling cooperative groups of key stakeholders. Although CAR-T cells can result in exciting durable response rates in some patients, many patients are not receiving these therapies due to cost as well as the bandwidth available to produce autologous T-cell treatments. SITC has a strong track record of assembling wide-ranging groups of stakeholders, such as bioengineers, immunologists, regulatory agencies, and industry, to synergize efforts and devise creative methods to lower the cost of goods and enhance the efficiency of delivery for these treatments. In addition, it is imperative to bring together payers, including private insurers and government agencies, to allow a broader span of patients to receive these treatments