The immune system has a remarkable ability to locate, recognize and attack invaders, including viruses such as the ones that cause colds and flu. But the immune system is not always able to eliminate cancer cells when they form. Malignant tumors, once they develop, use a variety of evasion tactics to outwit the immune system. Our scientists are discovering new ways to tap into the immune system’s inherent disease-fighting power to target diseased cells while avoiding healthy cells.
In the 1970s, a team of Fred Hutch scientists provided the first definitive and reproducible example of the immune system defeating cancer. Led by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, they pioneered bone marrow transplantation as a treatment for previously incurable blood cancers. This work won Thomas the Nobel Prize and helped spark a revolutionary new field of cancer treatment known as immunotherapy.
Our researchers are studying and developing several types of immunotherapies, each of which boosts the immune system in different ways. These therapies can be used alone or in combination with conventional treatments or with one another. Our areas of focus in immunotherapy include:
This first-of-its-kind facility — opened in 2016 and staffed by a team of top clinicians, researchers, nurses and other specialists — has more than doubled our capacity to conduct clinical trials of immunotherapies. Located on the campus shared by Fred Hutch and our clinical care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the 9,000-square-foot facility was designed specifically to care for patients who are participating in clinical studies. It enables extensive monitoring of each patient and faster and more extensive data gathering, all of which are helping to accelerate the development of the next generation of immune-based therapies.
Patients play a vital role in translating scientific discoveries into new therapies. Immunotherapy is currently used primarily to treat advanced cancers, and most new immunotherapies are still experimental. Clinical trials help us test new and better immune-based approaches to treat more patients with more types of cancers. Our list of immunotherapy clinical trials is constantly growing and evolving, and patients have access to them through SCCA.
The IIRC advances our immunotherapy research by increasing collaboration across Fred Hutch’s five scientific divisions. It facilitates the recruitment of new team members and funds early-stage projects in our programs that focus on cell therapy, transplant immunology, tumor microenvironment, immune checkpoint regulation, immunogenomics, therapeutic vaccines and more.