Supported by Bristol-Myers Squibb through the Robin Roberts Cancer Thrivership Fund
While immunotherapy can sometimes result in dramatic and prolonged responses, it can also cause major toxicities. Immune-related adverse events (irAEs) are quite different than the toxicities seen with other cancer treatments, such as conventional chemotherapy. They occur when immunotherapy causes the patient’s own immune system to attack normal organs in the body. These toxicities may occur at any point in treatment, may be severe, and—of particular concern to cancer survivors—may be permanent.
irAEs remain poorly understood partly because immunotherapy research has focused almost exclusively on tumor biology, which is certainly relevant to immunotherapy effectiveness. However, we believe that toxicities irAEs have more to do with patients’ own immune systems. Our research team has expertise in cancer, immunology, and genetics. We have already collected clinical information and blood samples on hundreds of patients receiving cancer immunotherapy. With this information, we have identified some blood-based tests that may predict the future development of irAEs.
We now take this research to the next level by proposing genetic and functional tests to identify underlying predisposition to irAEs. Specifically, we will study DNA and RNA in blood samples from our existing patient cohort. If successful, our research could ultimately help (1) identify high-risk patients, (2) customize therapy, (3) tailor monitoring, (4) expand immunotherapy use, and (5) prevent toxicities.