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Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD
Professor of Oncology
Johns Hopkins University
Goal: To advance the use of immunotherapy in breast cancer with combination approaches for patients with recurrent HER2-positive breast cancer.
Impact: Drs. Jaffee and Emens are pursuing ways to enhance the response of immunotherapy so that more patients can benefit from it.
What’s next: The team will test whether a combination immunotherapy approach will improve response to immunotherapy in HER2-positive breast cancer.
Immunotherapy is a promising treatment for breast cancer, but as with other anti-cancer therapies, tumors are able to evade these drugs and block their effects. Drs. Jaffee and Emens are focused on developing immunotherapy combinations that convert non-responding tumors to responders, enhance responses that do occur, and overcome acquired resistance to immunotherapy.
Full Research Summary
Research goal: Developing potent immunotherapy combinations for patients with recurrent HER2-positive breast cancer.
Impact: While some breast cancer patients respond to a type of immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors, these drugs have not been very effective in treating patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. Drs. Jaffee and Emens have identified additional checkpoint targets and are investigating combination immunotherapy treatments that induce T cells and counter the tumor’s immunosuppressive properties so that more patients will be able to benefit from immunotherapy.
Current investigation: The team has been conducting laboratory studies of the combination of anti-PD-L1 immunotherapy agent atezolizumab with the chemotherapy drug nab-paclitaxel in laboratory models of advanced HER2-positive breast cancer. The same treatment combination was recently FDA-approved for the treatment of advanced triple negative breast cancer. This year they are also studying another immune target called TIM-3, which they believe is blocking the effect of anti-PD-L1 treatment. They will measure protein levels of TIM-3 in human tumors as well as laboratory models and begin testing combination approaches to target TIM-3 and PD-L1.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Emens and Jaffee found that when the checkpoint protein, PD-L1 was blocked in their laboratory models of HER2-positive breast cancer, a counter effect occurred to decrease the anti-PD-L1 treatment. They found that another checkpoint protein, called TIM-3 may be blocking the cancer killing ability of T-cells activated by the PD-L1 therapy.
What’s next: The team will continue studying the presence of TIM-3 in tumors and test whether targeting TIM-3 in addition to PD-L1 results in more effective response.
Dr. Jaffee is an internationally recognized expert in cancer immunology with specific expertise in the pre-clinical and early clinical development of immunotherapies for breast and pancreatic cancers. She has developed novel vaccine approaches for the treatment of pancreatic and breast cancers and new methodologies for identifying vaccine induced T cell and antibody targets. Dr. Jaffee serves Co-Director of the GI Cancers Program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Associate Director for Translational Science in the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. She directs the Cell Processing and Gene Therapy cGMP Facility and is Deputy Director for the Institute for Translational and Clinical Research. Recent appointments include: National Cancer Advisory Board, 2015 AACR Annual Meeting Program Planning Committee, Scientific Advisory Council for the Cancer Research Institute and Team Leader for Stand Up To Cancer Pancreatic Dream Team.