Roswell Park, Wilmot Cancer Institute Collaborate on First Large Study of Immunotherapy in Black Cancer Patients


BUFFALO and ROCHESTER, N.Y., April 21, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- A new collaboration will help oncologists learn whether Black and white cancer patients respond differently to a game-changing immunotherapy treatment, and seeks to improve the safety and effectiveness of these newer drugs in diverse populations.

Our findings show there may be a particular benefit to these immunotherapies for cancer patients of African ancestry.

Funded by a two-year, $2.08 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester are working together to fill a major gap in the science around immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs).

Checkpoint inhibitors — such as nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) — have become standard care for 16 different types of cancer, both early and advanced-stage. They work by blocking signals in the immune system, clearing a path for the body's natural T cells to kill cancer.

Few people of African ancestry participated in the original clinical trials to evaluate these treatments. The Roswell Park-Wilmot collaborators plan to collect data that will allow them to investigate side effects, toxicities and outcomes among people of African ancestry who take immune checkpoint inhibitors.

"Checkpoint inhibitors have largely not been studied in Black cancer patients, but our recent findings show that there may be a particular benefit to these immunotherapies for cancer patients of African ancestry — across a variety of cancer types," says Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Chair of Cancer Prevention & Control at Roswell Park and a Co-Investigator on the study.

"Because Black cancer patients tend to have a prevalence of what we call 'exhausted,' nonfunctional T cells, we realized they may be more likely to do well on immune checkpoint inhibitors, which target the exhausted T cells to revive them and restore their ability to fight cancer cells," says Song Yao, PhD, Professor of Oncology in Roswell Park's Department of Cancer Prevention and Control, Co-Principal Investigator on the study.

The team, including Co-Principal Investigator Charles Kamen, PhD, MPH, and Co-Investigator Gary Morrow, PhD, MS, from the University of Rochester, have designed a large national study — known as the DiRECT Cohort — that will seek to enlist 600 Black patient volunteers and 1,200 white cancer patients of European ancestry.

The Wilmot/University of Rochester team will leverage its position as a hub for the National Community Oncology Research Program of NCORP. Dr. Morrow, a Dean's Professor of Surgery at UR, is co-Principal Investigator for the NCORP program.

Read the full press release here.

Rebecca Vogt

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SOURCE Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center


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