Undeterred: BIDMC Cancer Center Symposium Goes Virtual

BIDMC Communications mediarelations@bidmc.harvard.edu

DECEMBER 04, 2020

For more than a decade, the annual BIDMC Cancer Center Symposium has brought luminaries from around the world to the Longwood Medical Area to exchange new ideas and information about cancer research in person. This year, the Cancer Center hosted its 13th annual research symposium, Horizons in Targeted and Immune Based Therapies, via Zoom as a virtual webinar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Obviously, this year is different, but we will get through the pandemic, and when we do, cancer will still be with us," said Peter J. Healy, President of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "It gives me great confidence that you continue to collaborate for the purpose of innovation. Our cancer center is a great example of the kind of collaboration that happens at BIDMC and the kind of results collaboration can produce."

Three hundred fifty attendants logged in to participate in the day-long event, organized by Frank Slack, PhD, Director of BIDMC's Cancer Research Institute and Director of the Harvard Medical School Initiative for RNA Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; David Avigan, MD, Chief of the Division of Hematology & Hematologic Malignancies, and David McDermott, MD, Chief of Medical Oncology. Avigan and McDermott are also Co-Directors of Immunotherapy Institute of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

"Each year our symposium focuses on the most updated research, and in that regard, 2020 has been a stellar year despite the pandemic," said Slack. "This was the year that BIDMC researchers contributed to or identified some of the first mechanisms of resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors, new tumor suppressors of breast cancer, a molecule that activates the PTEN tumor suppressor, and performed the first examination of mechanisms of breast cancer in transgender patients. We are very pound of their accomplishments over the last year."

Kicking off a day of presentations from experts on the leading edge of cancer research and treatment from institutions near and far, McDermott highlighted BIDMC's "strong tradition of innovation" in developing targeted and immune based cancer therapies, the theme of the day.

"For more than 20 years, investigators at BIDMC have been contributing to this important work," said McDermott. "BIDMC became the lead enrolling site for the pivotal trial that confirmed anti-tumor activity of the immune-based therapy, Ipilimumab, now FDA approved for the treatment of several tumors. Next year, in 2021, we'll continue our efforts to get our patients into remission."

The morning's sessions focused on how big data and genomics are helping researchers study resistance to treatment in cancer, identify new therapeutic targets and develop personalized cancer therapies. Speakers included Gad Getz, PhD, Director, Cancer Genome Analysis, Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, MGH Cancer Center; Benjamin L. Ebert, MD, PhD, Chair of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Richard Stone, MD, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Ana Anderson, PhD, Associate Professor, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Broad Institute, and Harvard Medical School. Andy Beck, MD, MMsc, PhD, formerly of BIDMC and now co-founder and CEO of PathAI, discussed the recent innovations that will let artificial intelligence enhance microscopy — the core technology that has been used for cancer diagnosis and research for more than a century.

In the afternoon, luminaries in the field of cancer immunotherapy shared the latest advances in cell therapy in cancer treatment. A pioneer in the development of effective cancer immunotherapies, Steven Rosenberg, MD, PhD, Chief of the Surgery Branch at the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, reported on his team's success developing cellular therapies for patients with metastatic cancers based on the adoptive transfer of immune cells that recognize and destroy cancer cells. BIDMC's Jacalyn Rosenblatt, MD, Associate Chief of the Division of Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies, provided an overview of a personalized vaccine therapy she developed in collaboration with Avigan; Carl June, MD, Director of the Cancer Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania — whose team published the first findings detailing success with a new therapy in which patients with two types of leukemia were treated with genetically engineered versions of their own T cells, or CAR T cells — presented on how CAR T cell therapy may be applicable to ailments beyond cancer such as cardiac fibrosis. Credited with identifying T cell exhaustion as a major feature limiting the activity of CAR T cells, Crystal Mackall, MD, Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, weighed in on engineering next generation CAR T cells to overcome resistance.

"These scientists have been an inspiration to many in our field of immunotherapy and together created made so much meaningful change for patients," said Avigan, who moderated the round table discussion featuring the afternoon's speakers. "Their presence here today is a nod to the gravitas of BIDMC's program. The symposium's focus on integrating transformative science and pioneering therapies with compassionate care that is accessible to all perfectly encapsulates our cancer center's priorities."

Even under challenging circumstances, BIDMC's research community was able to enjoy a remarkable day of science. "The Cancer Center symposium featured internationally renowned speakers who made major impacts on research initiatives in cancer research," said Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, Hon. ScD, Chief Academic Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Beth Israel Lahey Health. "We are extremely proud of BIDMC's Cancer Research Institute and our investigators who lead discovery efforts in cancer biology and novel treatments, and I congratulate to Drs. Slack, Avigan and McDermott on a successful meeting."

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,800 physicians and 36,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.