American Cancer Society awards research professorship to Fred Hutch immunotherapy physician-scientist Dr. Stanley Riddell

Largest nonprofit, non-government cancer research funder pledges support for next-generation immunotherapy research
Dr. Stanley Riddell
Dr. Stanley Riddell has been honored by the American Cancer Society for his immunotherapy research. Fred Hutch file

SEATTLE — Nov. 9, 2016 — Dr. Stanley Riddell, a physician-scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center whose work has led to promising new cancer immunotherapy treatments, has received an American Cancer Society – Virginia Hobbs Charitable Trust Research Professorship, one of the group’s most prestigious  awards.

"I am deeply honored to be selected for this award, through which the American Cancer Society has a long track record of financial support and recognition for groundbreaking research," Riddell said. "I know I’m in incredible company when I look at other recipients of this award and the scientific discoveries that have been fostered as a result of that support."

The ACS research professor awards provide flexible funding for full-time investigators in mid-career who have made seminal contributions to cancer research and who will continue to provide leadership in their research area. The awards are made through a highly competitive peer-review process.

Only 25 research professors and 15 clinical research professors are funded at any time.

"Dr. Riddell has been a leader in the field of immunotherapy of leukemia research since the early 1990s," said Bill Chambers, senior vice president for extramural research at the ACS. "His work is truly outstanding, and I cannot say enough good things about him and why this funding for Stan is so well deserved."

Riddell’s research focuses on genetically engineering T cells with synthetic receptors, known as chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs, which enable them to latch onto and destroy cancer cells. Although CAR T-cell therapy has had notable successes, it can cause life-threatening immune responses in patients; CAR T cells can attack healthy cells as well as cancer cells. Riddell is trying to avoid such harmful results by devising novel ways to restrain CAR T cells.

In a recent study, for instance, Riddell and his colleagues identified a technique in mice that successfully activated a "kill switch" for CAR T cells once they eliminated all the cancerous B cells. This allowed healthy B cells, which the CAR T cells had also attacked, to again flourish in the mice. Healthy B cells are a critical part of the immune system; they are needed to fight off bacterial and viral infections. This research could lead to future studies to help patients who have undergone successful CAR T-cell treatments recover healthy levels of B cells.

"We're really trying to move immunotherapy into the clinic quickly," Riddell said. "We are excited by the potential for success and believe that this therapy can be applied to several types of cancer."

Riddell is collaborating on a new trial that employs T-cell therapy against certain types of lung cancer and breast cancer, which could provide valuable insights into how effective these engineered cells can be in fighting solid tumors.

Beyond the lab, Riddell treats patients with leukemia, lymphomas and other blood-related cancers using bone marrow transplantation and experimental CAR T-cell therapies. He is an expert in treating graft-versus-host disease that can occur if a donor’s T cells attack normal tissues following transplantation.

The ACS is the largest nonprofit, non-governmental cancer research organization that funds cancer research in the United States. Since 1946, its grants have supported the research and training of health professionals to investigate the causes, prevention and early detection of cancer, as well as new treatments, cancer survivorship and end-of-life support for patients and their families. In those 70 years, the ACS extramural research grants program has devoted more than $4.3 billion to cancer research and has funded 47 Nobel Prize winners.

Claire Hudson
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