Last fall, Dr. David Maloney got to do something many researchers dream of: sit at the bedside of the first patient to receive a potentially game-changing treatment. The therapy uses T cells to attack cancer. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists, led by Drs. Stan Riddell, Mike Jensen and, more recently, Cameron Turtle, spent years developing the therapy and watching it eradicate cancer in mice. But approaches that work in the lab don’t always work in people, and Maloney remembers an anxious wait as the T cells flowed into his patient’s bloodstream.
As you’ll read in this issue, that patient and some other study participants – patients with advanced blood cancers that weren’t responding to traditional therapies – have experienced very encouraging results, with some tumors vanishing within weeks of just one treatment. Not every patient responds — yet, the promise is there. Cures are being achieved when other options do not exist. So, the Hutch’s priorities must be to maintain the resources, atmosphere and know-how to perfect this therapy.
The progress of our immunotherapy research is just one of many accomplishments I am proud to have presided over as president and director. Over the past few years, we have become a more visible institution that identifies and promulgates innovation; one that has an eye on translating discoveries into real therapies.
Recently, new programs here have emerged, including fresh approaches for targeted therapies for cancer and other diseases and approaches to cure genetic blood diseases through gene editing and cord blood transplantation.
Fred Hutch is also devoted to finding new ways to prevent disease — something that is the focus of my own research. During my time as president of the Hutch, I’ve been able to remain involved in research. But as I move from the director’s office back to a full-time focus on science this summer, it will be gratifying to work more closely with the research teams I have built in developing a globally effective HIV vaccine, and my other laboratory that is developing a herpes virus vaccine.
When I started the HIV Vaccine Trials Network in 1999, our goal was to develop a vaccine that prevents people from contracting HIV. We’ve made tremendous progress but millions around the globe still become infected each year. My personal goal is simple conceptually but hard scientifically: I want my grandchildren to grow up in the AIDS-free world that I did.