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Taha Merghoub, PhD
Associate Attending Biologist
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
New York, New York
Goal: To improve response to immunotherapy in breast cancer patients.
Impact: Drs. Merghoub and Wolchok are pursuing strategies to harness the power of the immune system to treat breast cancer, including combination treatment approaches and vaccine development. Their work could advance the use of immune-based treatments in breast cancer patients.
What’s next: Having identified two classes of drugs that work by preventing immune surveillance of breast tumors, the team will now conduct laboratory and clinical studies to further test them alone and in combination to continue improving immune therapies.
Immunotherapy has been less effective in treating breast cancer patients compared to those with other types of cancer, such as melanoma and lung cancer. Drs. Merghoub and Wolchok are conducting several studies aimed at enhancing response to immunotherapy in patients with breast cancer and improve outcomes. Having shown promise in laboratory studies, some of these methods are now being tested in patients.
Full Research Summary
Research Area: Developing immunotherapy approaches in breast cancer.
Impact: Immunotherapy refers to a treatment strategy that utilizes the body’s immune defenses to fight off disease. A new class of immunotherapies called checkpoint inhibitors have been effective in patients with melanoma, lung and other cancer, but has not been very effective for most breast cancers. The BCRF research of Drs. Merghoub and Wolchok is focusing on both developing new immune-based strategies and improving response to existing immunotherapies in breast cancer.
Current Research: Drs. Merghoub and Wolchok are continuing ongoing laboratory and clinical studies aimed at identifying combination approaches to improve response to immune-based therapies in breast cancer.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Merghoub and Wolchok have made significant progress in their efforts including:
- Combining immune therapy with radiation therapy
- Targeted and inactivated immune suppressive cells called Tregs and myeloid suppressive cells
- Modulated tumor glucose consumption to improve immune therapies
What’s next: In the coming year, they will continue their efforts to optimize treatments that combine local radiation therapy and immune therapy. In addition, they are continuing work on drugs that block immune suppressive cells and a drug that affects tumor metabolism within the tumor microenvironment. They will be evaluating these drugs when combined with current immune therapies. Drs. Merghoub and Wolchok predict that their findings will inform the design of future clinical trials with these agents.
Dr. Merghoub received his BA degree from University of Algiers, Algeria, and MS and PhD degrees with highest distinction from University of Paris, France. His thesis work focused on the study of genetic polymorphism in fetal hemoglobin gene in patients with sickle cell anemia and thalassemia. His findings provided insight to the correlation of genotypes and phenotypes in sickle cell anemia and thalassemia. After graduation, he pursued his postdoctoral research with Dr. Pier Paolo Pandolfi at MSKCC. He characterized the transcriptional properties of the Pokemon gene and its role during development. He also played an active role in the generation of laboratory models for acute promyelocytic leukemia, and furthered his knowledge and experience in genetics. Dr. Merghoub is a Senior Research Scientist in Dr. Wolchok’s lab and an associate lab member in the melanoma and immunotherapeutic service. His research projects investigate the pathogenesis and treatment of melanoma, and in part are directed at developing tools to study melanoma. These projects are heavily collaborative in nature, within the Wolchok lab and across different disciplines at MSKCC. Dr. Merghoub has been co-directing the scientific focus of the Wolchok lab.