Sandra Demaria, MD • 2020 SITC Election

Sandra Demaria, MD
Weill Cornell Medicine


Dr. Demaria, 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 raising 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 130 articles and has received awards from the American Cancer Society, NCI, the Department of Defense CDMRP, and several private Foundations. She is the current Chair of the AACR Cancer Immunology Working Group. She has been an active participant in the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer since 2008, serving as a strategic task force member, faculty for the workshop, annual meeting and several educational ACI events. She also served as the Chair of the 2019 and 2020 annual meeting, and served as SITC Board Director from 2014 to 2017. She currently serves as 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?

1. In the last few years immunotherapy has transformed cancer care for some patients but durable responses remain limited, and effective treatments are not available for many cancers. In addition to innovation in bioengineering, and clinical studies that incorporate mechanistic questions and biomarker discovery, basic and translational science needs to focus on the biology of cancer and the host and go beyond combinations therapies as the solution for immunotherapy resistance.

2. The improved survival achieved with currently approved cancer immunotherapy agents exposes chronic toxicities of treatment, which need to be better understood and prevented. In addition, the current viral pandemic highlights the importance of understanding whether immune checkpoint blockade and other cancer immunotherapies alter the ability of the immune system to respond to infectious agents.

3. 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, advocacy, and has provided a forum for discussion between the different stakeholders. These areas should 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, autoimmunity, infectious diseases, bioengineering, mathematical modeling, population science and other disciplines to attend the annual meeting and become SITC members, partnering with other Societies, and developing funding initiatives that support interdisciplinary 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. Fostering collaborations and providing funding to young investigators will foster the unique sense of community that has shaped SITC for the past 30 years for the new generations.

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.