SITC Sparkathon Class of 2023

SITC Sparkathon Class of 2023

The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) is pleased to recognize the SITC Sparkathon Class of 2023 featuring 12 emerging leaders in the field of cancer immunotherapy, with a focus on toxicities in cancer immunotherapy.

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The SITC Sparkathon program brings together investigators early in their careers with various backgrounds, degrees and professional experiences to collaboratively address obstacles the field of cancer immunotherapy faces. The Sparkathon Class of 2023 will kick off with an in-person retreat Sept. 27-29, 2023, participants and faculty will also convene at a one-day symposium on Nov. 1, 2023 for additional education and to continue work on program outputs, just before the SITC 38th Annual Meeting and Pre-Conference Programs.

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SITC Sparkathon Class of 2023

Steven Blum, MD
Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital

Dr. Steve Blum is a physician scientist who is interested in using systems immunology approaches to understand the human immune response to cancer and immunotherapies.

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He is a medical oncologist and an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where he is pursuing post-doctoral research in the lab of Dr. Alexandra-Chloé Villani. His work in the Villani Lab focuses on understanding immune-related adverse events (irAEs) that stem from the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) and their relationship to anti-tumor immunity. He is focused on identifying clinical strategies to maximize the safety and efficacy of ICIs.

Kelly Burke, MD, PhD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Dr. Burke is currently an Instructor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She earned her MD PhD at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine where she studied the CD8+ T cell response to hepatitis C infection as part of her PhD in Immunology.

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She completed her Internal Medicine residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Hematology/Oncology fellowship at the combined Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham/MGH where she also served as chief fellow. She has been a highly productive post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Arlene Sharpe at Harvard Medical School, co-authoring multiple papers and review article in Nature Medicine, Journal of Experimental Medicine, and Cancer Cell. Dr. Burke's research interests lay at the intersection of promoting durable anti-tumor immunity and the development of immune-related adverse events using both mouse models and primary human tumor tissue.

Simon Deycmar, PhD
Wake Forest School of Medicine

Simon Deycmar is an Austrian Postdoctoral Fellow in Cancer Immunotherapy at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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His work is focused on expanding our understanding of naturally occurring cancers in rhesus macaques, improving cancer diagnostics by developing novel assays for cancer screening in rhesus macaques, and treating these rhesus cancer patients with cancer immunotherapy as an outstanding model for human disease and treatment. His recent work delineated the carcinogenesis of naturally occurring colorectal cancer (CRC) in rhesus macaques and the mutagenic mechanisms involved. He furthermore conducted 3 preclinical trials assessing a) combined radioimmunotherapy, b) immune priming approaches followed by T cell agonistic bispecifics, and c) atezolizumab monotherapy in dMMR CRC. These preclinical trials are aiming to increase our understanding of the local response induced within the tumor and its bed as well as possible resistance mechanisms or toxicity in organs-at-risk.

Besides his research work, Simon travels a lot to explore NC and its extensive and wild forests, lakes, and beaches and works on visiting as many US states as possible (currently 9).

Guido Ghilardi, MD
University of Pennsylvania

Guido Ghilardi is a physician-scientist trained as a hematologist at the Oncology Institute of Southern Switzerland, a world-renowned center for the treatment of lymphomas, interested in adoptive immunotherapy, such as chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CART) immunotherapy.

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To study the mechanisms underlying resistance and toxicities of CART immunotherapy, Guido joined the Ruella’s laboratory at the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania in 2020, where he works as a post-doctoral fellow.
The focus of Guido’s research is to improve CART immunotherapy in non-Hodgkin lymphomas by studying the mechanisms underlying CART toxicities and designing innovative and safer therapeutic approaches. Guido’s main focus is studying the impact of different lymphodepletion regimens before CART infusion on the emergence of toxicities by evaluating clinical outcomes and biological modifications induced by lymphodepletion.
Guido’s future career goal is to become a leading physician-scientist focused on refining immunotherapy treatments for lymphoma patients and establishing an independent academic translational research group focused on unraveling the mechanisms underlying the immunotherapies toxicities and designing innovative immunotherapy treatments for his patients.

Felix Korell, MD
Massachusetts General Hospital

Felix Korell is a physician and currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Cellular Immunotherapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, with a main research interest in CAR T cell therapy.

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He began working as a resident in the Department of Internal Medicine – Hematology & Oncology at the University Hospital Heidelberg, Germany, in August of 2018. From the beginning, he was a member of the work group of Michael Schmitt, performing clinical research on CAR T cells, with a focus on CAR toxicity and adverse events. Additionally, he worked as a research fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Schmitt, analyzing the CAR manufacturing process and his departments IIT CAR T cell trial HD-CAR-1.
In July 2021, he joined the laboratory of Marcela Maus at Massachusetts General Cancer Center, where he focuses on basic CAR T cell research with the goal to modify CAR T cells to improve its efficacy, and persistence, while reducing cell-mediated toxicity.

Caleb Lareau, PhD
Stanford University

Caleb Lareau is an Instructor of Pathology at Stanford University School of Medicine and a Parker Scholar at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

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Caleb completed his PhD from Harvard Medical School, where he developed new technical and computational approaches for lineage tracing in human samples. His recent works studies mechanisms of toxicity in next-generation immunotherapies, including CAR T cell therapies and other antibody mediated therapies. He currently resides outside of Palo Alto with his wife and two cats.

Margaret Ottaviano, PhD
Department of Melanoma

Margaret Ottaviano is currently working as Senior Medical Oncology Consultant at the Department of Melanoma, Cancer Immunotherapy and Development Therapeutics, I.N.T. IRCCS Fondazione "G. Pascale" Napoli, Naples, Italy, directed by Prof. Paolo A. Ascierto.

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She is involved in all the clinical activities of the Unit: diagnosis, treatment and follow up of patients affected by skin cancers, with special commitment for rare skin malignancies (MCC, Kaposi sarcoma, Mucosal melanoma, skin adnexal tumors). Moreover, she is sub-investigator in all the Phase I, II and III trials carried on at INT Pascale (more than 40 clinical trials currently ongoing) and mainly focused on cellular therapies and new combination of immunotherapies in all the solid cancers.
Margaret Ottaviano graduated with the highest marks (110/110 cum laude) and mention to career in March 2013 at the University of Naples “Federico II” discussing a thesis on prognostic and predictive clinical factors of a series of patients with Classic Kaposi Sarcoma. Subsequently, she graduated as Specialist in Medical Oncology in July 2018 with the highest marks (50/50 cum laude), discussing a specialist thesis about the results of a phase II trial, developing herself, about the immune-modulation role of cetuximab in advanced chemo-refractory thymic epithelial tumors. Moreover, in 2018, during the last year of the specialty in Medical Oncology, she began to attend the PhD in Advanced Biomedical and Surgical Therapies at the University of Naples Federico II, spending during that time, also an eight-month period at the IOSI Istituto Oncologico of Southern Switzerland in Bellinzona, under the supervision of Prof. Silke Gillessen. During that time, she attended the Phase I Unit, gaining experiences in that research field and in March 2021 she discussed the PhD thesis about the complex immunological dysregulation in Thymic Epithelial Tumor as a model of rare tumor for better understanding the coexistence of autoimmunities and immuno-depression. Indeed, at INT Pascale, she is currently investigating any potential similarities between the autoimmunities associated with Thymic malignancies and those developed in patients with solid cancers after immune checkpoint inhibitors treatment. She was selected to present during the SITC World Immunotherapy Council’s 4 th Young Investigator Symposium 2021 the Spontaneous clinical researches in immuno-oncology carried on at SCITO the Società Campana di ImmunoTerapia Oncologica (Oncological Immunotherapies Society of Campania Region), directed by Prof. Paolo A. Ascierto and of which Margaret is the coordinator for the young researchers. Moreover, she is also the coordinator of the Rare Tumors Reference Center of Naples, recognized as European Reference Center from the ERN EURACAN network. For her well-acknowledged researches on innovative treatments and immunological dysregulation in thymic epithelial tumors, Margaret Ottaviano received several ITMIG (International Thymic Malignancy Interest Group) awards: ITMIG Turin 2017 Best Oral presentation; ITMIG Seoul 2018 Best Poster Presentation; ITMIG Toronto 2019 Best Poster Presentation. Finally, she has been invited as speaker at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for the ITMIG 2023 Scientific Session: Immunotherapy and Onco-Immunology with presentation on Management of Immunosuppressed Patients and Immunological Disorders.

Alexander Rankin, MD
National Cancer Institute

Alexander Rankin, MD is an immunotherapy fellow at the National Cancer Institute. He completed his clinical training in pediatric hematology/oncology at Children's Hospital Colorado and during this time, was the recipient of the 2022 SITC NCI Immunotherapy Fellowship award.

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His primary interest and research focus centers around the use of immunotherapy, particularly cellular therapy, in patients with high-risk hematologic malignancies. During his fellowship, he spent two years in the laboratory studying the integration of signals downstream of distinct chimeric antigen receptor molecules in bicistronic CAR T cells and the subsequent impact of these signals on CAR T cell function, efficacy, and persistence. Through this, Dr. Rankin has developed a passion for the development of novel cellular therapies and their application clinically. With this solid scientific foundation, Dr. Rankin is now pursuing further education and training at the NCI in the area of clinical protocol development, and aims to establish a career focused on the implementation of novel therapies in patients through early phase clinical trials.

Saurabh Sharma, PhD
Stanford School of Medicine

Dr. Saurabh Sharma is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Department of Surgery, Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, CA 94305, USA. 

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Dr. Sharma is also working on several collaborative project as an remote affiliated scientist at Terasaki Institute of Biomedical Innovation, Los Angeles, CA-90024, USA. He was previously worked as a Post-doctoral Chemist/Pharmacologist for blood blood-brain barrier targeted platform technology on Multiligand based Peptide/Antibody/Antisense Oligonucleotide Nanoconjugate for vaccine immunoadjuvants and immunotherapy for treating brain tumor and organ-on-chip at the Terasaki Institute of Biomedical Innovation, Los Angeles, CA-90024, USA. He also worked as an Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmaceutics (Drug Delivery), School of Health Sciences, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Energy Acres Campus, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India. His research work has majorly focused on the several types of Nano-carriers Containing Nucleic acids/Immunotherapy/small molecules for the Treatment of the treatment of several cancers and other debilitating diseases.

Yapeng Su, PhD
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center

Dr. Yapeng Su received his Ph.D. degree at Caltech, co-advised by James R. Heath, PhD, and Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, PhD, and collaborating closely with Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, at UCLA.

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Dr. Su’s graduate school research utilized systems biology approaches and various single-cell technologies to tackle one of the biggest problems in cancer; i.e., drug resistance. After obtaining his Ph.D. degree, Dr. Su conducted postgraduate research at the Institute for Systems Biology in the lab of Leroy Hood, MD, PhD, who pioneered the field of systems biology. Closely collaborating with a group of world-leading immunologists (Mark M. Davis, PhD; Philip Greenberg, MD; Raphael Gottardo, PhD; James R Heath, PhD; Jeff Bluestone, PhD; Lewis Lanier, PhD; Alan Aderem, PhD), Dr. Su utilized data science, including multi-omic bulk and single-cell analyses, to investigate the systems immunology of COVID-19. Currently, Dr. Su is a Damon Runyon Quantitative Fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (Fred Hutch), co-mentored by Dr. Philip Greenberg, a pioneer in the field of adoptive T cell therapy, and Dr. Raphael Gottardo, a renowned computational biologist. Dr. Su combines computational and experimental methods to study many quantitative questions that must be addressed to advance adoptive T cell therapies against solid tumors.

Dr. Su has published 27 papers, including nine first-author papers in prestigious journals, such as Cell and Nature Biotechnology, which has been reported in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, TIME magazine and other media. Dr. Su has been invited to give 20 national and international talks about his research, and received 23 honors for his research excellence, such as the Herbert Newby McCoy Award (the highest honor of the Caltech Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering) and a prestigious award from the Chinese government. Dr. Su has also obtained highly-competitive fellowships, including one of only three 2022 Damon Runyon Quantitative Biology Fellowship awards, and six independent research grants ($565,000 total). He has mentored 11 trainees who went further to pursue Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. degrees in prestigious institutions, such as University of Cambridge, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington.

Deanne Tibbitts, PhD, MCR
Oregon Health and Science University

Dr. Deanne Tibbitts is a Research Assistant Professor in the Division of Oncological Sciences at Oregon Health and Science University, where she studies how sex- and gender-based factors contribute to differences in cancer-related health outcomes during and after treatment.

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Dr. Tibbitts’s current work is focused on characterizing and explaining sex- and gender-based differences in immune-related adverse events during cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Tibbitts is also interested in the use of passive measurement technology to explore the impact of cancer treatment on functioning during daily life.

A native of Atlanta, Dr. Tibbitts obtained her bachelor's degree in Genetics and Cellular Biology from the University of Georgia. She completed her PhD in Molecular and Medical Genetics at OHSU where she studied the molecular mechanisms of leukemia development and the development of targeted cancer therapeutics. Dr. Tibbitts completed a clinical research fellowship in complementary and integrative health at the National University of Natural Medicine and a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer survivorship at OHSU. In 2022, Dr. Tibbitts was appointed an Oregon BIRCWH (Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health) K12 scholar. Her long-term career goal is to develop a program of research that improves quality of life for women with cancer by better understanding their unique symptom biology in response to cancer treatment.

Aleksei Tikhonov, PhD
Gustave Roussy

Dr. Aleksei Tikhonov is a translational researcher with expertise in cancer immunology and immunotherapy, precision oncology, clinical chemistry, and circulating biomarkers.

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He earned his M.Sc. degree from the Higher Chemical College of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2015 and his PhD in molecular biology and oncology from the Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology (EIMB RAS) in 2021. His PhD thesis focused on identifying novel circulating tumor markers in colorectal cancer using 3D-hydrogel microarray technology, which he developed and optimized during his doctoral studies.
Dr. Tikhonov is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Gustave Roussy in France, where he studies the role of auto-antibodies and anti-tumor antibodies in cancer immunotherapy. He collaborates with other researchers, clinicians, and biostatisticians and participates in clinical trials and translational studies. He has published over 20 articles and two patents and presented his results at international conferences. He is an active member of the SITC, ESMO, and EFLM committees. He also mentors junior researchers and students.