Christian Capitini, MD • 2020 SITC Election

Christian Capitini, MD
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Dr. Capitini is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, and is presently an American Cancer Society Research Scholar and a Young Investigator on a “Pediatric Cancer Dream Team” sponsored by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Stand up to Cancer. He also serves as Director of Clinical Innovation for the UW Forward BIO Institute. Dr. Capitini leads an NIH and NSF-supported laboratory focusing on development of cell-based therapies including NK cells and CAR T cells for the treatment of childhood cancers like neuroblastoma and osteosarcoma. The laboratory also manufactures cell-based therapies for complications of bone marrow transplant, including alternatively activated macrophages to treat graft-versus-host-disease and acute radiation syndrome. In the clinic, Dr. Capitini was a site Principal Investigator (PI) for the first multicenter CAR T cell trial, which lead to the FDA approval of tisagenlecleucel-T (Kymriah). Presently he is a site PI for multiple Kymriah trials for the upfront treatment of high-risk B cell leukemia and for recurrent non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children.

Dr. Capitini has been an active member of SITC since 2010 and first served as Co-chair of the Early Career Scientist Committee from 2011-2013. He has also served as a representative on the Annual Program Committee (2012-13), the By-laws Committee (2016-17) and most recently the Awards Committee (2018-present). Dr. Capitini created the first SITC online CME course, now in its 3rd edition, on Immunology 101 for the non-Immunologist as a pre-requisite to the Advances for Cancer Immunotherapy (ACI) seminar series, and continues to serve on the ACI subcommittee. He is the Section Editor for Commentaries/Editorials for JITC, and is a co-organizer and lecturer for the upcoming 3rd Annual SITC Winter School.

SITC Election Platform Statement

What are the two or three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy?

Research Support: Being sensitive to the current economic climate related to COVID-19, I think the field needs to continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for improved funding of cancer immunotherapy research. In order for novel therapeutics to be developed and make advances in our field, we must not lose momentum and remind legislators that immunotherapies have had a major impact on improving survival and quality of life for multiple high-risk cancers.

Patient Access: At the health system level, it is no secret that cancer immunotherapies are amongst the most expensive drugs on the market. We need to improve access to immunotherapies to make them more affordable for practices to acquire and administer, and for patients to purchase. While we do not set prices, we can influence our health care administration infrastructure and support development of generic biosimilars that provide cheaper alternatives.

Career Development: We have still not recovered from the 2 decades of flat NIH budgets that limited grant paylines and decreased opportunities particularly for early career professionals trying to start a career in cancer immunotherapy. While some progress has been made, we must continue to champion initiatives that will encourage the best and brightest trainees to pursue a career in our field, and insure they have the support to thrive. Continued education and focused abstract awards targeted at early career scientists at our Annual Meeting has been a great start, but further engagement with industry and private foundations for sponsorship of cancer immunotherapy fellowships for early and mid-career scientists will need to continue.

What is your vision for SITC?

SITC is uniquely positioned to be the thought leader for how the field of cancer immunotherapy will evolve in research, clinical care and health care policy. For researchers, I would like to engage more industry partners and private foundations to double the number of fellowships we offer from 6 to 12 awards, and increase the number of Travel Awards to the Annual Meeting. We can also secure new grant opportunities by partnering with other organizations like AACR, ASCO, ASH, ASTCT and AAI who individually offer prestigious awards but could fund something much bolder/larger by combining resources especially given mutual interest in cancer immunotherapy. I also would like to highlight more early career scientist research in our journal, JITC.

For clinicians, we can reach out to academic oncology fellowship training programs to develop formal cancer immunotherapy subspecialty fellowships by leveraging our new Certificate Program and Winter School. Similar endeavors were done previously for fellows interested in neuro-oncology and bone marrow transplant, but I believe there are trainees that want specialized expertise in immunotherapy.

At the policy level, we have provided expert recommendations for using immunotherapies to treat various subsets of cancer (and associated toxicities) that occur in adults. I also would like to see SITC provide more expert guidance in the field of childhood cancer. A variety of childhood cancer protocols are testing immunotherapies but lack SITC’s expertise on how to incorporate immunotherapy with conventional therapies like radiation and how to better engage industry partners, who may be reluctant to do research on children, to get access to promising immunotherapy drugs.