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Newswise — (Baltimore) - A new institute studying immunology with the potential to eventually end all forms of cancer was announced today at Johns Hopkins by Vice President Joe Biden, Michael R. Bloomberg and more than a dozen additional supporters of this initiative. Embracing the vice president’s “moonshot” initiative to cure cancer, the new Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy was founded with gifts from Michael R. Bloomberg, philanthropist, entrepreneur and three-term mayor of New York City, and Jones Apparel Group founder Sidney Kimmel, who each contributed $50 million. An additional $25 million for the center is thanks to more than a dozen additional supporters.

Immunotherapy is a central element of the Obama administration’s new moonshot to cure cancer. It has the potential to cure and end all forms of cancer, which makes it one of the most promising avenues of cancer research today. Currently the most rapidly advancing approach to cancer treatment, immunotherapy seeks to redirect patients’ highly individual immune systems to target, detect and destroy cancer cells. (See attached FAQs for more information on immunotherapy.)

The institute will further strengthen Johns Hopkins’ world-class program in cancer immunology, uniting the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center experts with the immunology, genetics, microbiology and biomedical engineering experts throughout Johns Hopkins in a concentrated effort involving over 100 scientists and clinicians.

“We are at the forefront of an emerging and promising field of cancer research and treatment,” said Paul Rothman, M.D., dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We are grateful for these tremendous gifts which will help us accelerate the already rapid pace of discoveries in immunotherapy.”

How Funds Will Be Used

While funds for the new institute will primarily support research, they also will be used to recruit additional scientists; provide additional infrastructure for engineering cellular products related to immunotherapy research; enhance partnerships with the private sector, including biotech and pharma; and invest in critical technology development, such as new ways to profile the immune response inside the tumor. Research at the institute will focus particularly on melanoma, colon, pancreatic, urologic, lung, breast and ovarian cancers.

According to Drew Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., the institute’s inaugural director, “We believe the focused and collaborative research made possible through the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will advance immunotherapies to the point where the immune system will ultimately be able to beat 100 percent of cancers. The potential to control or cure even the most advanced, treatment-resistant cancers has been elusive until now.”

Bloomberg and Kimmel: A History of Support for Health Funding

Sidney Kimmel and Michael Bloomberg each have a long history of support for Johns Hopkins.

Bloomberg, a 1964 alumnus of The Johns Hopkins University and chairman of its board of trustees from 1996 to 2002, has given more than $1.2 billion to the university and the Johns Hopkins Health System since graduating. Funding from Bloomberg has contributed to a physics building, a school of public health, a children’s hospital, a stem cell research institute, a malaria institute and a library wing. He has also financed 20 percent of all need-based financial aid grants to undergraduates, with over 2,000 scholarships committed over the next several years. Announced in January 2013, Bloomberg committed an additional $250 million to recruit 50 faculty members as Bloomberg Distinguished Professors. The majority of this gift is dedicated to creating 50 new interdisciplinary professorships, galvanizing people, resources, research and educational opportunities to address major world problems.

“Ending all cancer would rank among humanity’s greatest achievements, and immunotherapy is bringing that dream within reach. This new institute will build on the pioneering work that doctors and researchers at Johns Hopkins have done in immunotherapy and help fuel new advances and discoveries. It’s an honor to join Vice President Biden in the moonshot effort he’s leading to end cancer and also to partner with Sidney Kimmel, whose generous and committed support for cancer research is saving lives,” says Bloomberg.

Since 2001, Kimmel has contributed $157 million; in recognition of that generosity, Johns Hopkins named its cancer center after him. Kimmel also has given an additional $2.4 million to support 12 young cancer scientists at Johns Hopkins as part of his national Kimmel Scholars Program.

“I could not be more honored to partner with Mike Bloomberg and capture the opportunity to advance immunotherapy research at this critical moment,” Kimmel says. “Having been committed to cancer research for more than 20 years, it simply thrills me to know that the scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center see a new light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Michael Bloomberg and Sidney Kimmel are visionaries,” says Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University. “Their philanthropy has already fostered remarkable innovation throughout Johns Hopkins, transforming the landscape of public health and cancer research. The new Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute builds on that legacy, giving us the latitude to dream big as we accelerate our efforts to end all forms of cancer.”

The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, based in Baltimore, Maryland, is one of 45 centers designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive center.

Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer: The Hope and Promise

Q: How do cancer cells evade detection and destruction by the immune system?A: Cancer involves the uncontrolled growth of people’s own cells. So, unlike most bacteria and viruses that are more easily recognized by the immune system as foreign, cancer cells co-opt the cellular processes that protect normal cells from immune attack, using them to grow, spread and cloak themselves from detection by the immune system.

Q: How does immunotherapy work?A: Immunotherapies aim to either uncloak cancer cells, allowing them to be “seen” by cancer-killing immune system cells, or bring an “army” of immune cells directly to the tumor area. Scientists believe that some immunotherapies may work best in combination with other immunotherapies; cancer-killing drugs, such as chemotherapy and biologic therapy; or radiation. Watch an animation of how immunotherapy works at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/sebin/e/l/npr-immuno.gif.

Q: Who will lead the new Institute?A: The institute’s inaugural director is Drew Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized scientist whose career in immunology and cancer research spans 25 years. Pardoll is known for discoveries related to three types of white blood cells. These include two kinds of T cells, the foreign substance-fighting soldiers of the immune system, and a type of dendritic cell, which acts as a messenger service for the immune system. He holds over 50 patents and is the co-founder of six biotechnology companies — Aduro, Amplimmune, Jounce, Potenza, Tizona and WindMIL — focused on developing new immunotherapy agents for cancers and autoimmune diseases. In addition, Charles Drake, Elizabeth Jaffee, Jonathan Powell and Suzanne Topalian will serve as Institute co-directors. Each is an internationally recognized investigator in cancer immunology and immunotherapy.

Q: How have Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists contributed to the field of immunotherapy?A: Among many discoveries, Kimmel Cancer Center scientists led the first clinical trials on immunotherapy agents known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. These anticancer drugs interfere with tumor and normal cell surface molecules called PD-1 and PD-L1, which shield tumor cells from the immune system. Two immune checkpoint blockers were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January 2016 for use against lung cancer, kidney cancer and melanoma, and show promise in more than ten additional types of cancer. More recently, Kimmel Cancer Center scientists discovered a tumor biomarker that predicts a patient’s response to these inhibitors. Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed the first genetically engineered experimental vaccine for pancreas cancer and are currently testing this in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors. They also discovered that the bone marrow contains a unique population of cancer-fighting immune cells termed MILs. MILs are currently being used clinically for treatment of multiple myeloma.

Q: How is the new institute unique?A: According to the institute’s director, Drew Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center are at the leading edge of clinical and laboratory-based immunotherapy research. “This brings an opportunity for innovative clinical trials, collaboration with cancer centers and scientists across the globe, and rapid analysis in the laboratory of how and in which patients immunotherapy works,” he says.

Q: What will be the priorities of the new institute?A: Scientists in the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will be leading clinical trials that, in many cases, began as ideas in laboratories at Johns Hopkins and are not being done elsewhere. Institute scientists also plan to collect blood and tissue samples from patients enrolled in these clinical trials to study why some patients respond well to immunotherapy and others do not. Research priorities of the institute include discovery of new immune checkpoint molecules, identifying ways to manipulate metabolic processes in immune cells that enhance their potency, developing new immunotherapeutic drugs and engineered vaccines, determining ways to use antimicrobial compounds and probiotics to combat cancer-linked inflammation, and using genomic sequencing to link genetic biomarkers to immunotherapy response.

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