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An important goal of our laboratory is to clarify the role of the immune system during cancer therapy. Standard systemic therapies have established antitumor properties; however, the immune modulating effect of traditional cytotoxic drugs and newer targeted agents has received less attention. Understanding the immune modulating properties of these agents paves the way for combination therapies that include novel cancer vaccines. For example, Temsirolimus is a rapamycin analog that is approved by the FDA for the treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma. We made the unexpected discovery that temsirolimus, which is commonly classified as an immunosuppressant, has immunostimulatory properties and can enhance the antitumor effects of a cancer vaccine. Efforts are underway to find rational combinations of therapies that include an mTOR pathway inhibitor and a cancer vaccine. In our tumor immunology studies, we routinely use in vitro and in vivo preclinical models for melanoma, kidney cancer and prostate cancer.
Another focus area for the laboratory involves discovery and validation of clinically useful biomarkers. Too many novel therapies that appear promising in the laboratory fail when taken into clinical trials. One strategy for identifying the most promising new therapies is to use biomarkers during the earliest phases of clinical testing. Therefore, biomarkers for assessing therapy response should be co-developed with any new treatment, and our work with novel antitumor immunotherapies complements our biomarker projects.