Good News at Fred Hutch: Immunotherapy pioneer named chair, Nobel laureate keynotes

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements
Dr. David Maloney
Dr. David Maloney speaks after becoming Leonard and Norma Klorfine Endowed Chair for Clinical Research. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Immunotherapy pioneer, oncologist and ‘serial hobbyist’ Dr. David Maloney named first Klorfine Chair

Colleagues, friends and family honored Dr. David Maloney as the first recipient of the Leonard and Norma Klorfine Endowed Chair for Clinical Research — created to celebrate an “unsung hero” of medicine.

The chair was established with a gift from Leonard and Norma Klorfine, well-known art collectors, philanthropists, and supporters of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The Klorfines’ goal was to fund a physician-scientist who may not be a household name but who nevertheless dedicates each day to improving health and saving lives through world-class research.    

At a June 16 reception, attendees described Maloney as curious, persistent, gentle, and competitive and as a “serial hobbyist” who pursues even his recreational activities with “intense focus.” (He is an accomplished bird photographer, wood worker, and brewer.) Maloney expressed his gratitude but was quick to share the spotlight.

“I really want to thank the Klorfines so much for this generosity,” he said. “This [honor] has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the people I work with.”

Many of those people were in attendance, including Hutch colleagues and members of Maloney’s laboratory and clinical research teams. They joined the Klorfines, Maloney’s wife, Sue, his mother, Ruth Maloney, and his two sisters, Patty Grandy and Linda Patterson, as well as other friends for a celebration in the Hutch’s Mundie Courtyard.

Maloney is an internationally renowned immunotherapy researcher and physician who specializes in caring for patients with blood cancers. He began his research career at Stanford University in the early 1980s. Working with Dr. Ronald Levy, he was part of the team that discovered that antibodies (immune system proteins) that target lymphoma cells could be generated and delivered to patients as a cancer-specific therapy. Maloney led the initial development of the molecule known as rituximab, which became the first monoclonal antibody approved for the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphomas. It has revolutionized therapy for patients with these diseases, and it opened the door to other antibody-based cancer treatments.

'Incredible impact' 

Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland, who presented Maloney with a commemorative glass plaque, described Maloney’s work on rituximab as having “an incredible impact on patient care and patient outcomes.”

After joining the Hutch in 1994, Maloney continued making waves. He joined Drs. Rainer Storb and Brenda Sandmaier and their team in pioneering non-myeloablative transplants. Also called reduced-intensity or mini-transplants because these regimens involve lower doses of radiation and chemotherapy, the landmark advance extended the therapeutic power of transplantation to many more patients, including those who are older or who have additional medical complications.

Maloney explained how the team’s work “taught us the immune system is able to eradicate a lot of tumor,” a lesson that helped cement a path to new immunotherapies like the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy he is now developing. Maloney said what he and his colleagues have achieved so far with this approach — not least the promising early trial results they recently reported for patients with certain blood cancers — is “better than all the rest of them put together.”

In a message Gilliland read aloud, Levy, Maloney’s mentor at Stanford, said, “David has played a key role in two of the biggest and most exciting developments in our field — monoclonal antibodies and CAR T cells. … He knows what it means to be part of a ‘disruptive’ technology. … Let him know that I am very proud of him.”

The Klorfines shared the sentiment. Norma Klorfine said Maloney’s “quiet, assured personality” impressed her from the moment they met, and she thanked him and all the Hutch scientists and staff for their work. Asked to add a few words, Leonard Klorfine nodded to Maloney’s family members and said, “David’s mom must be very proud of her son, and we are proud of him too.”

An inspiring gift  

The Klorfines are known for both collecting art and for making philanthropic contributions that encourage others to join them in giving. The former is a shared passion as old as their own relationship: They first met on a blind date at an artists’ community. The latter was exemplified by this latest donation, one of several they made to favorite nonprofits to celebrate their own 50th wedding anniversary. As the challenge at the 2015 Hutch Holiday Gala, their gift not only established the chair that Maloney now holds, it inspired other donors to contribute, creating a pair of Fred Hutch 40thAnniversary Endowed Chairs. Those chairs were recently awarded to two other titans of cancer research: Drs. Garnet Anderson and Denise Galloway. “It’s so wonderful we can recognize their contributions, and that’s thanks to you,” Gilliland told the Klorfines.

Adding endowed chairs has been a focus for Gilliland since he took the Hutch’s helm in 2015. At that time, only three such positions existed. Now the list is at 12 and growing, and the Klorfines’ support has been a key catalyst. Endowed chairs are important not just for honoring scientific excellence but for recruiting and retaining exceptional researchers and providing sustained support for their pursuit of discoveries.

Dr. David Maloney
A younger Dr. David Maloney and his catch. Courtesy Dr. David Maloney

Both before and after the formal remarks, guests mingled and swapped stories.

Anecdotes told by Maloney’s mother and sisters revealed the roots of his enthusiasm for the outdoors — early morning fishing expeditions and family camping trips were favorites — and his dedication to mastering whatever skill he needed to in order to outwit an opponent — be that his sister in a game of chess or Twixt, or the sinister foe he’s taken on professionally: blood cancer.

Attendees also enjoyed the photographs of Maloney as a child, student and early researcher that dotted the tables in the courtyard.

More than one picture featured Maloney with catches from his fishing outings.

Friend and colleague Levy sent a particularly popular snap of the cancer researcher-cum-outdoorsman “after he caught a big fish — a metaphor,” Levy noted, “for his career in medicine.”

— Andrea Detter / Fred Hutch News Service


Dr. Linda Buck breaks down science of smell in keynote

Nobel laureate Dr. Linda Buck gave the keynote speech, “Deconstructing smell,” at this week’s NeuroFutures 2016 conference, focusing on circuit structure and dynamics. The Allen Institute for Brain Science co-hosted the event.

Speaking Monday, Buck described her work investigating the different organs, neurons and receptor families that have developed to detect odors. The Fred Hutch neurobiologist also detailed the brain regions that decipher the social and environmental cues that odors carry.

In addition to being the first scientist to identify a family of genes that control the olfactory system, Buck determined that each odor-sensing cell in the nose possesses only one type of odorant receptor, and that each receptor can detect a limited number of odorant substances. And Buck has found that different odor molecules trigger different combinations of receptors, allowing us to distinguish between odor molecules whose structure differ only slightly.

Dr. Linda Buck
Dr. Linda Buck addresses NeuroFutures conference Photo by Rob Piercy / Allen Institute

At the conference, Buck also discussed her group’s more recent work, including a study this year in which her team identified nerve cells and a region of the brain behind the innate fear response that certain odors elicit.

NeuroFutures 2016 is the third annual summit bringing together thought leaders in neuroscience and neurotechnology, co-hosted by the Allen Institute, University of Washington, Oregon Health and Sciences University, University of British Columbia and Northwest NeuroNeighborhood.

Buck’s landmark contributions to human biology have opened new doors to studying the brain. They also carry numerous implications for health and may help our understanding of behaviors such as fear and aggression.

For her pioneering discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system, Buck received the 2004 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

 — Sabrina Richards / Fred Hutch News Service

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