Working as an intern alongside Dr. Don Thomas in the summer of 1971, Dr. Martin "Mac" Cheever had the opportunity to see firsthand the early, seemingly miraculous use of bone marrow transplantation, a then experimental treatment for leukemia and other blood diseases.
Today, Cheever is still working to move cutting-edge science out of the lab and into the clinic, a process known as translational research. Among the most promising treatments being developed at the Hutch are those collectively known as immunotherapy. The approach is based on harnessing the innate cancer-fighting properties of the immune system through antibodies, disease-fighting T-cells and — Cheever's own area of expertise — cancer vaccines.
"There are a number of areas, such as immune-based therapy, in which we have the world's top scientific programs and, therefore, the potential to offer cancer patients therapies based on this research," said Cheever, who is also a professor of medicine and associate director of medical oncology at the University of Washington.
Cheever is internationally recognized for his contributions to cancer immunotherapy. He was part of the Center research group that made seminal contributions to the field of T-cell therapy, which relies on tumor-fighting cells of the immune system. He mentored younger scientists who have successfully translated their laboratory work into treatments. Cheever was also one of the key developers of the anti-lymphoma drug Bexxar.
In 1997, he left academic research to co-found a Seattle biotechnology company. There, he oversaw the development of cancer vaccines designed to prevent the recurrence of cancer in patients after treatment, two of which are now being tested in clinical trials. More recently, Cheever has served as a consultant to the National Cancer Institute, providing strategic direction for translational research and urging the prioritization and funding of immunotherapy efforts. He is also developing an early stage clinical trials program to help jumpstart potential therapies.
Cheever sees his role as both exciting and challenging. "The development and testing of new drugs to treat cancers is a pressing national and global need," he said. "As our team evaluates the promise of new cancer therapies through early stage clinical trials, those efforts will also hasten the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry's development of cancer drugs and therapy regimens. There's enormous potential."
Dr. Mac Cheever, Director of the Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network, says his team is testing what he believes will become the dominant form of cancer therapy.