Titles and Affiliations

Associate Professor, Radiation Oncology
Director, Mark Foundation Center for Immunotherapy, Immune Signaling, and Radiation
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Research area

Improving the effectiveness of immunotherapy for breast cancer patients.

Impact

Immunotherapy harnesses the power of one’s own immune system to fight cancer. It is one of the most significant recent advances in cancer medicine and has been particularly successful in treating some lung cancer and melanoma. For breast cancer, immune checkpoint blockade, which prevents cancer cells from suppressing the immune cells trying to fight them, has demonstrated activity for certain subtypes such as triple-negative breast cancers. Unfortunately, however, efficacy has not achieved what is seen in melanoma and lung cancer. Dr. Minn is working to discover why breast cancer is resistant to immunotherapy so that this promising treatment can benefit more breast cancer patients.

Progress Thus Far

Cancer cells can mimic certain features typically associated with chronic viral infections in order to evade the immune system. A large percentage of breast cancer patients have tumors that express anti-viral gene programs that are typically seen when normal cells are chronically infected with a virus. Dr. Minn hypothesizes that interfering with these anti-viral signaling pathways in breast cancer can restore immune function against cancer cells and improve the efficacy of immunotherapy. His research examines individual cells to see how combination strategies that block anti-viral pathways restore immune function. During the past year, Dr. Minn has continued to test strategies that block anti-viral pathways and made progress improving response to immune checkpoint blockade therapies.

What’s next

In the coming year, Dr. Minn will continue to study and target pathways typically activated in viral infection that regulate immune response. He is focusing on the interferon (IFN) signaling pathway, which plays a critical role in the human immune response. Dr. Minn is testing the combination of anti-IFN therapy with existing drugs alone and in combination with  other targeted therapies to improve the anti-tumor immune response.

Biography

Dr. Minn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his MD and PhD from the University of Chicago, and finished his residency in radiation oncology and his post-doctoral training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. 

His laboratory is focused on understanding how breast cancers and other cancer types become resistant to both conventional therapies and to immunotherapies, and how resistance can be overcome. His work has unexpectedly revealed that pathways typically activated by viruses are among the important pathways cancers use to acquire their resistant properties (as well as other aggressive features). This raises two questions: 1) what is mimicking a viral infection in cancer, and 2) how does the activation of anti-viral signaling influence whether cancers respond or relapse after therapy? 

Through the integration of “big data” and other genome-wide approaches, recent efforts are providing insight into these questions. These insights include the discovery of endogenous molecules that masquerade as viruses, and how these virus mimics orchestrate anti-viral responses to marshal the immune system and influence treatment outcomes. By gaining a deep mechanistic understanding, an overarching objective of Dr. Minn’s research is to manipulate these pathways to improve therapeutic efficacy and to inform the design of clinical trials.

BCRF Investigator Since

2017

Donor Recognition

The William P. Lauder Awards

Areas of Focus