Researchers Discuss the Future of Cancer Therapies at 15th Annual Cancer Symposium

Written by: Jacqueline Mitchell Contact: Chloe Meck,

NOVEMBER 10, 2022

More than 360 physicians, researchers, students and staff gathered to discuss the latest innovations in cancer therapies during the 15th annual Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) Cancer Center Symposium. Participants walked away feeling inspired after a day of presentations on immune therapy, genetics and more.

“There has been really amazing and strong work from the Cancer Center over the last 15 years, and I am incredibly hopeful that it will continue into the next 15 years and beyond,” said Peter Healy, president of BIDMC, as he opened the event. “Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to continue to elevate our cancer services and our cancer research. I hope the exciting presentations you’ll be hearing today further inspires us to get to the next level.”

In a video message, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu also thanked the assembled scientists for their efforts on behalf of the health of the community.

“Boston exports breakthroughs and big ideas, because Boston is the place to be to do good in the world,” she said. “And that's true because of organizations like BIDMC, events like this symposium, and hearts and minds like yours — dedicated to redefining what's possible for all of us.”

The morning session presenters focused on new strategies in immunotherapy. Still a relatively new treatment modality, immunotherapy has arrested and even reversed cancer’s progress in people whose tumors would have been considered hopeless 20 years ago. However, not all patients respond equally well to immunotherapy. As the field of cancer immunology matures, researchers are now focused on finding new ways to harness the power of immunotherapy to treat resistant diseases. Attendees heard from Patrick Baeuerle, PhD, of Biologics for Cullinan Oncology; Madhav Dhodapkar, MBBS, of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; Marcel van den Brink, MD, PhD, a former fellow at BIDMC who is now at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Jon Arnason, MD, of the Cancer Center at BIDMC; and Catherine Wu, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“Our goal here is to marry the transformative science and discovery that happens through our basic research and clinical care and to translate those findings into the next generation of pioneering therapies,” said event co-host David Avigan, MD, director of the BIDMC Cancer Center Director and Senior Vice President of Cancer Services at Beth Israel Lahey Health. “We've seen some fantastic examples, both in the realm of immunotherapeutics and targeted therapies. And something that we really want to hold on to is delivering all this in the setting of compassionate care, a hallmark of BIDMC. We also want to think to make sure our therapies are accessible to all.”

Olufunmilayo (Funmi) I. Olopade, MD, of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at UChicago Medicine, kicked off the afternoon session on cancer genetics. She was followed by Cheryl Walker, PhD, of the Departments of Molecular & Cell Biology and Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine; Susan Domchek, MD, of the MacDonald Cancer Risk Evaluation Center at UPenn Medicine. Ralph Scully, MBBS, of the Cancer Research Institute at BIDMC, discussed a novel approach to repair cancer predisposed cells; and Andrea Bullock, MD, of the Cancer Center at BIDMC, presented data showing promising immune therapy responses in pancreatic and colorectal cancers.

In a roundtable discussion during the afternoon sessions, co-host and moderator Alex Toker, PhD, Associate Director of BIDMC’s Cancer Research Institute, asked the scientists their thoughts on the future of cancer immunotherapy.

“I get excited about those rare patients who are exceptional responders to immunotherapy,” said Bullock, citing two patients she’s been following for more than years of treatment that exceeded expectations. “Trying to understand what's driving that response, and hopefully move that forward for our other patients.”

Scully recalled a patient he admitted as a 23-year-old physician, a young woman who died hours later of terminal breast cancer.

“I often think about her and think about the advances that have happened in helping to save the lives of women with early onset breast cancer,” he said. “We've been wrestling with animal models for decades. But genomic sequencing is still a baby — it’s just incredibly recent — and I'm extremely interested to see what it looks like when it's mature.”

Together with Avigan, this year’s event was organized and hosted by David McDermott, MD, chief of Medical Oncology at BIDMC; Frank Slack, PhD, director of BIDMC’s Cancer Research Institute and director of the Harvard Medical School Initiative for RNA Medicine at BIDMC; and Alex Toker, PhD, associate director of BIDMC’s Cancer Research Institute.

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.