(May 2017) Treating disease by harnessing the power of the human immune system
has emerged in recent years as a critical area of inquiry in medical
On the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, the Human Immunology
and Im-munotherapy Initiative (HI3), one of the five Transformational
Research Funding projects funded by Dean John Reilly, MD, has been
organized to provide focus and resources for such an effort.
which was described by Science magazine as the Break-through of the
Year in 2013, has led to major changes in the standard of care for some
diseases and is particularly useful in infectious disease, autoimmunity,
allergy and asthma and has been widely recognized for its potential in
“Immunotherapy is important because, first of
all, it represents a sea change in how we approach therapy in cancer,”
said John Cambier, PhD, chair of the Department of Immunology and
Microbiology and one of the directors of HI3.
“As a field we’ve
been working for decades to understand enough about cellular
interactions in the immune system to get to a place where we can
intervene and almost all of those studies have been in the mouse. It’s
really only in the last 10 years or so that we’ve gotten to the point
where we can take all that basic knowledge and formulate it into
therapies.” During its initial year, the leaders of HI3 have targeted
their efforts on assembling the scientific and clinical infrastructure
needed to boost the impact of researchers working on and recruited to
campus. “We made a conscious decision to take a go-slow approach,
putting together all of our infrastructure pieces in a thoughtful and careful manner,” Cambier said.
and all new recruits who are clinical scientists, who have
translational as well as clinical delivery interests and intent, are
going to need a certain infrastructure that doesn’t really exist on the
campus, so we’re putting our money right now into building that
essential infrastructure. In addition to recruitment, our main focus was
to establish resources to test and monitor the state of the immune
system in research studies aimed at discovery or in clinical trials
aimed at monitoring patient care.” To that end, HI3 has established the
Human Immune Monitoring Shared Resource (HIMSR) to fill in gaps between
clinical and basic science research, providing sample preparation and
immune-based assays. Equipment for sample processing, cell sorting,
cytometry, cutting-edge imaging, and data analysis are among the pieces
obtained or managed by HIMSR.
“It’ll probably be over $1
million worth of equipment in the end,” Cambier said. “We’ve taken
delivery of what we had the space to accommodate. There are a number of
investigators across campus, as well as external investigators, who
have expressed interest in using the HIMSR for their studies. So there
is already a queue to use this share resource. HIMSR is already working
with more than 20 groups on campus that want access to these services.”
addition, HIMSR offers free initial project consultation regarding
research endpoints, the selection of appropriate assays. The HIMSR also
offers coordination of investigators with available statisticians and
bioin-formaticians to assist in study design and data analysis, and will
continue to ask the scientific community for ideas related to testing
and development of new technologies for immune monitoring.
equipment and services – scientific and clinical infrastructure – are
essential to building a strong foundation for the future of immunology
research and immunotherapy on campus and to fulfilling HI3’s mission.
foundation of the initiative – an all-inclusive facility providing
experimental models for the preclinical testing of new candidate
therapeutics, reliable immunotherapeutic production, consistent clinical
trials research support, and organized immune monitoring capabilities –
is fundamental for any future HI3 efforts. The ultimate goal is to
establish preeminence in human immune system-targeted therapies on the
CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
From there, HI3 plans to train future scientific leaders and recruit exemplary faculty.
of the purposes of bringing in really strong mid-to-senior faculty is
that we’ll bring in people who have a history of innovation, who have
shown in the past that they can do that part of it,” Cambier said.
is already recruiting high-profile researchers in partnership with
other programs on campus, such as with the pediatric oncology program at
Children’s Hospital Colorado. Internationally renowned recruits will
help attract other faculty to campus.
“They will be important in doing the second-level of recruiting of people, who will probably be younger,” Cambier said.
There are other HI3 searches underway.
have three standing search committees: one looking for basic
scientists who are focused on human immunology and translation, one in
the autoimmunity space and that will be for clinician scientists and
then one in the cancer immunotherapy area,” Cambier said.
the challenges of recruiting the top specialists in immunology and
immunotherapy is that many other institutions are targeting this area of
“The reality is that everybody is trying to find these
same people, so competition is keen,” said Cambier, who added that one
potential recruit was interested in joining CU and then his home
institution received a $150 million philanthropic contribution to
support immunotherapy research. Each area requires a specific approach,
akin to building a baseball team through free agency and by developing
talent on the farm-team system.
“There are different strategies
to recruiting faculty and in basic science departments, we do it very
differently than normally its done in clinical departments,” Cambier
said. “In clinical departments, at least in the context of these
searches, we want to find targets of opportunity. People who we think
would add significantly to the expertise in the place.
the basic sciences, we are primarily interested in people who are
early in their career. So you approach it in a different way, by
advertising to see who shows up. So on the clinical side, you grow your own, meaning you have fellows in your program that you eventually bring on to the faculty or you find targets of opportunity.”
Fontenot, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Allergy and
Clinical Immunology and one of the directors of HI3, agreed that the
goal is to bring in people who are “programmatic builders” who will help
increase the number of RO1s on campus.
The potential benefits of
immunotherapy, the demand for innovative care, the need to pick up the
pace in comparison to some other institutions and to take advantage of
the opportunities to serve patients will be driving forces for HI3 in
the years ahead.
“We have a huge catchment area in terms of
patients and we have nobody in the region who’s trying to serve it on
the scale that the demand would dictate,” Cambier said. “So the idea is
to get us up to speed, not only on the delivery of the therapies that
are out there, checkpoint inhibitors and CAR T-cells, but also to
innovate and develop the next generation of therapeutics.”