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NCI director talks immunotherapy, cancer research on Med Campus

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Washington University School of Medicine
Norman E. "Ned" Sharpless, MD, newly named director of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),... Norman E. "Ned" Sharpless, MD, newly named director of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), speaks at a town hall Tuesday, Feb. 27, on the Medical Campus. He visited the School of Medicine to attend and speak at the Bursky Center symposium and participate in a town hall. (Photo by Matt Miller)

Norman E. "Ned" Sharpless, MD, newly named director of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), speaks at a town hall Tuesday, Feb. 27, on the Medical Campus. He visited the School of Medicine to attend and speak at the Bursky Center symposium and participate in a town hall. (Photo by Matt Miller)

Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD, the newly appointed director of the National Cancer Institute, visited the Medical Campus this week to talk about the institute’s research enterprise and hear from faculty, students and staff as part of a listening and learning tour.

“I’ve learned a lot about immunotherapy (on the Medical Campus) and had the opportunity to talk with a number of talented WashU faculty to get a sense of the exciting things going on here,” Sharpless said. “It just reinforces that this is a very special, wonderful academic institution.”

He gave the keynote address at the second annual Bursky Center symposium on human immunology and immunotherapies. “The dramatic advances in cancer immunotherapy we are seeing today are the results of decades-long investment in basic research on the immune system,” Sharpless said, noting that the NCI continues to invest significant resources in research to understand why immunotherapies work in some patients and not others, and in studies to enhance the effectiveness of such therapies and reduce side effects.

During a town hall meeting led by Sharpless and co-sponsored by Siteman Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, he heard from faculty and students concerned about research funding. He also talked about the need to modernize clinical trials and incorporate big data more effectively into research, and he advocated for investments in basic science.

“As NCI director, I will continue to support a full-throated, unapologetic commitment to basic science,” Sharpless said. “The reason I feel that way is while we have a lot of great ideas, and we’re making a lot of progress and it is an exciting and awesome time in cancer research – with great therapeutic advances happening at WashU and places like WashU – we haven’t really figured cancer out. There are still diseases we don’t understand, there are clinical problems for which we have no good ideas, and we need more basic science.”

From left, Timothy Eberlein, MD, director of Siteman Cancer Center; NCI Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD; Provost Holden Thorp; and David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, stand for a photo at the second annual Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 on the Medical Campus. (Photo by Matt Miller)
John DiPersio, MD, PhD, waits for the start of the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 at the Eric P. Newman Education Center on the Medical Campus. (Photo by Matt Miller)
Siteman Cancer Center Director Timothy Eberlein, MD, (right) talks with NCI Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD, at the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 on the Medical Campus. (Photo by Matt Miller)
Victoria Fraser, MD, head of the Department of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, listens to a lecture at the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 on the Medical Campus. (Photo by Matt Miller)
Bursky Center Director Robert Schreiber, PhD, (left) and philanthropist Andrew Bursky welcome attendees at the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 on the Medical Campus. A major gift from Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky is funding cutting-edge work at the Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs at the School of Medicine. (Photo by Matt Miller)
NCI Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD, gives a keynote speech at the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 at the Eric P. Newman Education Center on the Medical Campus. (Photo by Matt Miller)
David H. Perlmutter (foreground), MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, visits with Provost Holden Thorp at the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 at the Eric P. Newman Education Center. (Photo by Matt Miller)
Washington University scientist Maxim Artyomov, PhD, (center) is awarded the Emil R. Unanue Award for Innovative Immunology Research, by Emil R. Unanue, MD, (left) and Andrew Bursky at the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 on the Medical Campus. (Photo by Matt Miller)
Philip Needleman, PhD, former head of the Department of Pharmacology, gives a keynote speech at the Bursky Center symposium Feb. 27 on the Medical Campus. (Photo by Matt Miller)