“There is no question cancer vaccines could be
more effective than they are right now… Focused funding for early cancer
detection and for the conduct of innovative clinical trials of novel approaches
is the best way to improve the outcome for lung cancer patients.”
– Martin “Mac” Cheever
Dr. Martin “Mac” Cheever, one of the founding fathers of T-cell therapy, specializes in cancer vaccines. He is keenly aware that most patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer will die from the disease within five years. “Even if you find lung cancer and treat it in the early stages, you will still have a high proportion of patients who relapse.” But if Dr. Cheever has his way, help may be on the horizon.
Of the many cancer vaccines currently in late-stage clinical trials, Dr. Cheever thinks a vaccine to prevent lung cancer relapses is the most promising. “I expect this lung cancer vaccine will be the next breakthrough for cancer vaccines. A lot of people will be surprised by this, but results from early trials are quite exciting,” explains Dr. Cheever.
Dr. Cheever, currently a Member and the Director of Solid Tumor Research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, ought to know. This internationally recognized scientist has dedicated his life to the translational research that has helped make cancer immunotherapy a reality.
Dr. Cheever’s expertise in the field led him to cofound Corixa, the biotech company that developed vaccine adjuvants and cancer vaccines in collaboration with major pharmaceutical companies and was essential for the FDA approval of the anti-lymphoma drug, Bexxar. Corixa was bought by GlaxoSmithKline for its vaccine technology. Several of the vaccines continue development in encouraging clinical trials.
Despite FDA approval of the first cancer vaccine, a vaccine for the therapy of advanced stage prostate cancer, and the very encouraging results of early-phase vaccine trials for lung cancer, Dr. Cheever is convinced that the scientific community has not put adequate resources into developing the most effective cancer vaccines possible. “There is a lack of focus—and possibly a lack of will—stemming from deficient foresight. We have the technology to make cancer vaccines exceedingly more effective than they are right now... It is only a matter of applying what we already know about agents that have already been invented.”
The bottom line, says Dr. Cheever, is that no one has enough money to do everything that is necessary. “The best way to help is to focus funding on early cancer detection and to develop innovative methods, such as cancer vaccines, for treating the early cancers.”
And Dr. Cheever takes every opportunity to ensure that happens. Most recently, Dr. Cheever’s determination was rewarded with a five-year $17 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to establish a new Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network to help accelerate clinical trials of promising cancer immunotherapies.
In addition, as one the earliest members of LUNGevity’s Scientific Advisory Board, he is proud to be part of an organization that takes an active role in carefully selecting research that is worthy of donated funds.
Despite these dark economic times, LUNGevity has funded some of the country’s most promising research in lung cancer in 2010 and Dr. Cheever is eager for this year’s round of funding. “It is fun to be involved with great people who are accomplishing so much in a short time.”