SEATTLE — July 6, 2017 — Immunotherapy researcher and oncologist Dr. Edus H. Warren has been selected to lead Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s program in Global Oncology in its effort to transform cancer care in sub-Saharan Africa, China and other regions by providing greater access to the latest research and treatment.
Warren, who goes by the nickname, “Hootie,” has been at Fred Hutch for 24 years, making important contributions in immunotherapy and global oncology. He designed and led Fred Hutch’s first clinical trial on T-cell therapy for patients with leukemia. More recently, he has concentrated on global oncology, and today about half of the research in his lab is focused on cancers that are particularly prevalent in Uganda, where Fred Hutch has a long-standing collaboration with the Uganda Cancer Institute, or UCI.
As program head, Warren will lead the research program with UCI, which was initiated because of the high incidence of infection-associated cancers in the region, and now encompasses Kaposi sarcoma, Burkitt and other non-Hodgkin lymphomas, cervical cancer, breast cancer and Hodgkin lymphomas. He will also spearhead collaborations between Fred Hutch and Chinese medical researchers that go back decades. Today, Fred Hutch’s China Initiative focuses on such health issues as infection-associated cancers, environmental exposures, immunotherapy and cancer biomarkers for precision medicine.
“The opportunities to grow these and other international partnerships, while bringing the full breadth of Fred Hutch’s expertise and ingenuity to bear, make this an exciting time for Global Oncology at Fred Hutch,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, Fred Hutch’s director and president. “Under Hootie’s leadership, Global Oncology will work to engage oncologists, infectious disease doctors, epidemiologists and other researchers from Seattle, Uganda and elsewhere in unique research and training opportunities aimed at improving patient outcomes in the near-term and amplifying our impact globally in years to come.”
In the global health field, Fred Hutch Global Oncology stands out for its focus. Most academic institutions and nongovernment organizations working in sub-Saharan Africa concentrate on infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Fred Hutch’s program is dedicated to ending the suffering caused by cancer in these regions. More than 70 percent of cancer deaths worldwide occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The Fred Hutch program grew out of a small 2004 research project with UCI, which led to a formal alliance in 2008. In 2015, the state-of-the-art UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Research Centre opened in Kampala to house research, training, laboratories and adult and pediatric outpatient clinical care.
At the alliance’s beginning, Uganda had only one oncologist serving a country of more than 40 million people. Today, a dozen young Ugandan doctors have trained in Seattle and returned to practice at the UCI. The alliance has completed more than 30 research projects on five cancers — Kaposi sarcoma, Burkitt lymphoma, cervical cancer, breast cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma. It has enrolled more than 1,800 study participants and archived more than 160,000 research specimens.
Warren is active in the clinic’s research and treatment, traveling twice a year to Kampala and engaging in weekly Skype sessions to discuss cases with the UCI staff. He said that he plans to visit the clinic more frequently and spend more time there with his new responsibilities.
“Dr. Warren brings to the collaboration a strong motivation backed by the requisite scientific knowledge and skills gained over the years,” wrote UCI director Dr. Jackson Orem in an email. “He has matching leadership skills and commitment to building capacity at the UCI through the collaboration.”
Warren aims to build on the Uganda work as well as look for synergies with other Fred Hutch international efforts, including its China Initiative and a cutting-edge Fred Hutch laboratory in Cape Town, South Africa, built to do HIV vaccine research.
“We produce breathtaking science on a daily basis here,” he said. “The problem is that much of the world’s population doesn’t have access to it. One of our major goals is to think outside the box, to figure out how we can adapt the incredibly exciting work that’s done here so that it can benefit people all around the world.”
Warren has a Ph.D. in neurobiology from Harvard University and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He came to Seattle in 1993 as a medical oncology fellow at the University of Washington and a research associate in immunology at Fred Hutch. In the years that followed, he focused on understanding at the cellular and molecular level how some, but not all, newly transplanted immune cells called T cells attacked leukemia cells. He discovered a way to isolate the ones that did, multiply them in a lab and give them back to the patient — a technique known as adoptive T-cell therapy.
Warren also co-invented a powerful, next-generation sequencing technology that allows researchers an unprecedented deep look at the millions of different T cells — and the diseases they target — in each individual person.
Warren is committed to translating the scientific research and innovations developed at Fred Hutch to improve care half a world away. “We’re not going to be doing bone marrow transplants and T-cell therapy in sub-Saharan Africa this year,” said Warren. “But we can adapt the breathtaking discoveries and advances that we make here in Seattle to benefit the other 7 billion people in the world more than they do now."