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NCI director visiting Med Campus on Feb. 27

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 in December at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. Sharpless will visit the School of Medicine on Tuesday, Feb. 27, where he will speak at the Bursky Center symposium and participate in a town hall. (Photo by Darr Beiser/ National Cancer Institute)

Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD, the newly appointed director of the National Cancer Institute, will visit Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis on Tuesday, Feb. 27. He took the helm of the NCI – the nation’s principal agency for funding cancer research – in October.

Sharpless will offer his perspectives on NCI’s research enterprise, including immunotherapies, as a keynote speaker at the second annual Bursky Center symposium. The symposium’s focus is advances in human immunology and immunotherapy. In a separate town hall meeting, also on the Medical Campus, he’ll offer his perspectives on the NCI and provide an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. Faculty, students and staff are invited to both events.

“We’re honored to have Dr. Sharpless on the Medical Campus,” said Robert Schreiber, PhD, director of the Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs and a member of the NCI’s Board of Scientific Advisors. “The NCI provides significant support to our scientists, whose innovative research helps improve care to patients. We’re looking forward to hearing from Dr. Sharpless as the new NCI director and from former Washington University faculty member Philip Needleman, who transitioned from a successful academic career to become a leader in biopharma and, more recently, a sought-after scientific adviser and venture capitalist.

“The symposium also will highlight cutting-edge human immunology research emerging from our young faculty working in the areas of cancer, infectious diseases, and autoimmunity and immunodeficiency diseases,” he added.

The symposium will be held from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Eric P. Newman Education Center. The town hall will be held from 2:30-3:30 p.m. in Holden Auditorium at the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center. The latter is co-sponsored by Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the School of Medicine. Siteman is the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Missouri.

“I am grateful to participate in the Bursky Center symposium and learn more about the cutting-edge human immunology and immunotherapy research at Washington University School of Medicine,” Sharpless said. “I look forward to sharing my perspective as NCI director at the town hall co-hosted by Siteman Cancer Center, an NCI-designated cancer center, and engaging with students, staff and faculty.”

Sharpless, a physician-scientist specializing in blood cancers, came to the NCI from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, where he served as director of the NCI-designated Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is the author of more than 150 original scientific papers, reviews and book chapters and holds 10 patents. His research focuses on the molecular biology of cancer and aging.

The School of Medicine has a long history of significant discoveries in immunology that have contributed to understanding how the immune system fights disease or, in some cases, mistakenly attacks the body, spurring autoimmune disease. Such research has aided efforts at Washington University to develop innovative treatment approaches, including vaccines and immunotherapies for cancer and other diseases.

“A number of cancer patients are benefiting from immunotherapies, and there’s a lot of excitement in the field that these therapies will continue to improve,” said Siteman Cancer Center Director Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, also head of the Department of Surgery and chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Board of Directors. “Support from the NCI has been essential to our efforts to develop immunotherapies and cancer vaccines, and the agency’s commitment to basic research is vital to helping us do our best work as we strive to improve treatment options for patients. We’re grateful to Dr. Sharpless for making time for a town hall meeting to hear from faculty, students and staff.”

The Bursky Center supports research that harnesses the immune system to fight cancer, infectious diseases, and disorders caused by autoimmunity and immune deficiencies. It was established in 2016 with a $10 million gift from Washington University alumni Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky.

The upcoming symposium also features a keynote address on drug discovery and development by Needleman, former head of the Department of Pharmacology. He later became senior executive vice president, chief scientific officer, and chairman of research and development at Pharmacia Corp. (formerly Monsanto/Searle) and discovered and developed the anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex, used to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Three junior faculty members also will speak at the event: Megan Cooper, MD, PhD, on the diagnosis and treatment of rare pediatric immune diseases; Gavin Dunn, MD, PhD, on developing immunotherapy for glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor; and Jonathan Miner, MD, PhD, on the links between immunity, Zika virus infection and autoimmune disease.

After the symposium, representatives from the biotech industry, venture capital firms and other areas of business will have the opportunity to meet one on one with faculty members in immunology or in other fields to hear more about their research.

“The Bursky symposium gives us an opportunity to highlight some outstanding examples of innovative human immunology research taking place on the Medical Campus,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “It gives me great pleasure to welcome Dr. Sharpless and representatives from the pharmaceutical and biotech industry here to find out more about our efforts to advance science and cure diseases.”

For more information about the symposium or to arrange a meeting with a faculty member, contact Tina Marti at the Bursky Center.