Hyam Levitsky MD

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD Professor of Oncology, Medicine, & Urology, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

Research Focus: Immunotherapy

Cancer Type: Lymphoma & Leukemia

Award: Clinical Investigator

2005-2008 Research Grant:

Pre-clinical models have demonstrated unequivocal progress in generating increasingly potent vaccine strategies that creatively exploit new pathways governing immune regulation. A major limitation to an approved vaccine has been that most have been studied as single agents in heavily pre-treated patients harboring advanced tumor burdens. Although the safety profile has been found to be remarkably favorable, there is growing consensus that for cancer vaccines to have a clinically meaningful impact, the paradigm must change. Our group seeks to move cancer vaccines into clinical settings that meet several criteria: 1) currently available therapies can reduce the bulk of the cancer without suppressing the host immune system; 2) such therapies themselves create a favorable setting for active immunization; 3) sensitive markers of disease burden exist to give a rapid readout of disease response; and 4) immune responses can be quantified to enable the correlation of vaccine effects with changes in tumor burden. In this proposal, the immuno-gene therapy of MDS represents an opportunity that these criteria, maximizing the probability that a clinically meaningful impact may be observed.

Current Research: Roche

Dr. Levitsky has continued research on immunotherapy treatments for cancer, mostly looking ways to induce tumor immunity via vaccination. He and his lab aim to understand the immune system’s response to cancer, and how to activate the body’s T cells to identify, reject and target tumor cells. Dr. Levitsky has identified certain potential issues with some T cell therapies in which a differentiation within the T cells (into what are called Th-1 cells) does not take place after the T cell identifies the tumor antigen. This response is critical in generating a productive antitumor response. Understanding why this happens is critical for ensuring the maximum effectiveness of immunotherapy and has huge implications for the future of this type of cancer treatment.

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