After successfully showing slowed tumor growth in mice, Dr. Kim is now working to show how toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists can be used as tumor cell vaccine adjuvants. His research has taught him that simply combining the agonists and the vaccine isn’t enough. He and his team have worked on formulating the biologic engineering required to get the vaccine to absorb the adjuvants. Also, because the formula is not as simple as one agonist for one vaccine, Dr. Kim and his colleagues are working on seemingly countless possibilities for different agonist combinations.
Explore This IssueSeptember 2011
Although all his tests have been on animals to date, Dr. Kim said he is about a year away from beginning patient tests. Specifically, he is looking to pair his science with a colleague’s GVAX for melanoma. Of course, he has his eye on similar vaccines for other cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma, but the holders of some vaccines are companies, and the approval process to formalize those partnerships can take time.
And Dr. Kim is eager to get to work.
“What are the key adjuvants that are important to make tumor vaccines, cancer vaccines work?” he said. “We have decades of experience with multiple labs trying to target tumor antigens, and they clearly have not worked by themselves.”
Dr. Kupferman was the only Clinical Scientist Development Award winner from 2010 in the first year of the grant. His research is focused on how neurotrophin receptors impact the progression of head and neck cancers, particularly oral cancers. He originally received an NIH grant in 2009 that will provide more than $525,000 over five years. His new grant is $80,000 per year for four years.
“We currently use a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treating these cancers … gleaning insights from how these tumors are behaving based on a particular molecular profile may give us insight in how to individualize treatment,” Dr. Kupferman said.
Dr. Kupferman is now hopeful his current funding is just a first step toward a larger proposal he’s drafting. His team has begun looking not just at tumor cells, but also at the surrounding support cells, which he dubs “the neighborhood within which the tumor lives.” He is hopeful a future NIH grant will fund deeper research down that path.