Immunotherapy Receives a $100 Million Boost

The University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center — one of the most esteemed cancer laboratories and centers in the world — is in the vanguard of advancing and unlocking the amazing abilities of immunotherapy. And recently, MD Anderson Cancer Center’s work earned major plaudits and support: The hospital was awarded $100 million for its groundbreaking research.

At the center of the landmark science that garnered the financial support is Dr. Laurence Cooper, PhD, a Professor of Pediatrics and a Section Chief at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Cooper has been a ballast in the 21st century’s fight against cancer: A marquee name in the oncology world and an Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT) Young Investigator, his work has propelled the immunotherapy forward immensely and awarded hope and treatment to those who need it most. Working alongside Dr. Cooper is the esteemed Perry Hackett, PhD, a professor at the College of Biological Sciences at Minnesota. Dr. Cooper and Hackett explore the realm of immunotherapy that pits patients’ CAR T cells against invasive cancer cells. MD Anderson Cancer Center has published the scientific details of the project and partnership in their newsroom. It’s here that the center’s president, Dr. Ron DePinho, lauds immunotherapy as “one of the most exciting approaches with curative potential in oncology today.”

The generous support stems from synthetic biology company Intrexon Corporation and its oncology partner, ZIOPHARM Oncology, in the shape of a licensing agreement. The backing of these two companies augurs a new era for immunotherapy. As brilliant minds like Dr. Cooper and his colleagues further harness the power of immunotherapy, biotech companies are able to connect with laboratories and work to bring the discoveries to patients who need it dearly. Immunotherapy is a beacon in the war on cancer: It promises an effective treatment that can battle cancer cells without the harrowing side effects of chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. And that dovetails completely with ACGT’s mission: Discovering new ways to treat and defeat cancer, while also preserving patients’ quality of life and minimizing painful side effects. 

Dr. Cooper’s pedigree with ACGT dates back over one decade. In 2003, as an Assistant Professor of Hematology and Oncology at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California, Dr. Cooper received a Young Investigator Grant. These ACGT grants support bright oncologists with novel ideas who display admirable promise and dedication. In 2006, Dr. Cooper transitioned to his role at MD Anderson Cancer Center. And ever since connecting with ACGT, Dr. Cooper has regularly assisted our foundation in evangelizing donors by spotlighting the amazing potential of immunotherapy. 

“The war on cancer has evolved… over these years,” Dr. Cooper said at a recent ACGT event in New York City, speaking to the growth and major successes of immunotherapy. The future of fighting cancer is immune-based therapy and gene therapy, he added. Indeed, the science has grown by leaps and bounds in just a few short decades, offering a renewed hope — and saving lives — to cancer patients who believed they had exhausted other treatment options. 

Dr. Cooper also understands the integral and indispensable role that philanthropy plays in the fight against cancer, particularly in the arena of immunotherapy. “It doesn’t fit the typical funding model,” he said at that same event, speaking to a room of donors, scientists and cancer survivors. “Philanthropy, thank goodness, has really stepped in and recognized the power.”

As philanthropists — and now biotech companies like Intrexon Corporation ZIOPHARM Oncology, too — continue to support immunotherapy, we can watch a new era of better, more effective cancer treatment unfold. This deep investment in immunotherapy highlights the field’s bright future, and our ability to one day transform the perils of cancer into a relic.