Q&A: Understanding our Immunotherapy platform

MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™ increases the speed at which our experts turn their research into new cancer treatment options for patients. At the core of this ambitious initiative are 10 research platforms, which provide the 13 disease-specific Moon Shots with specialized equipment, knowledge and data analysis tools. To learn how the platform impacts our immunotherapy research and cancer treatment, we spoke with the Immunotherapy platform team, which is led by Jim Allison, Ph.D., Patrick Hwu, M.D., and Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D. What is immunotherapy? Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. One type of immunotherapy, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, provides lasting cures to a subset of patients with specific cancers, including: Bladder cancer Hodgkin’s lymphoma Kidney cancer Head and neck cancers Melanoma Merkel cell carcinoma Non-small cell lung cancer Currently, not all patients benefit from immunotherapy, but through clinical trials, our experts are learning how to make this treatment more effective. How does the platform contribute to our mission of ending cancer? Our goal is to make immunotherapy a standard treatment option for many more types of cancers and patients. To expand the use of immunotherapy, we’re working to: identify the patients most likely to benefit from current immunotherapies, investigate why immunotherapy works for some patients and types of cancers but not others, and develop new immunotherapies and powerful combinations of existing therapies. We’re testing tumor and blood samples taken from patients treated on immunotherapy clinical trials to achieve these goals. The information we gather from analyzing these samples allows us to identify biomarkers that predict the likelihood that a...