Jim Allison

Dr. James Allison is the Chair of the Department of Immunology, the Vivian L. Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology, Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Research, and the Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He has spent a distinguished career studying the regulation of T cell responses and developing strategies for cancer immunotherapy. He earned the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he shared with Dr. Tasuku Honjo, "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune resgulation".

Among his most notable discoveries are the determination of the T cell receptor structure and that CD28 is the major costimulatory molecule that allows full activation of naïve T cells and prevents anergy in T cell clones. His lab resolved a major controversy by demonstrating that CTLA-4 inhibits T-cell activation by opposing CD28-mediated costimulation and that blockade of CTLA-4 could enhance T cell responses, leading to tumor rejection in animal models. This finding paved the wave for the emerging field of immune checkpoint blockade therapy for cancer. Work in his lab led to the development of ipilimumab, an antibody to human CTLA-4 and the first immune checkpoint blockade therapy approved by the FDA.

Among many honors, he is a member of the National Academies of Science and Medicine and received the Lasker-Debakey Clinical Medical Research award in 2015. His current work seeks to improve immune checkpoint blockade therapies currently used by our clinicians and identify new targets to unleash the immune system in order to eradicate cancer.

Pam Sharma

Dr. Sharma is a nationally and internationally renowned physician scientist whose research work is focused on investigating mechanisms and pathways within the immune system that facilitate tumor rejection, with subsequent clinical benefit, or elicit resistance to immune checkpoint therapy. She is a trained medical oncologist and immunologist and the T.C. and Jeanette D. Hsu Endowed Chair in Cell Biology. She designed and conducted the first pre-surgical trial, also known as a window-of-opportunity trial, with immune checkpoint therapy (anti-CTLA-4) in 2004, which allowed her to study the impact of immune checkpoint therapy on human tumors, with subsequent identification of the ICOS/ICOSL pathway as a novel target for cancer immunotherapy strategies. 

Dr. Sharma continues to design novel pre-surgical trials to evaluate human immune responses to different immunotherapies and she is the Principal Investigator for multiple immunotherapy clinical trials that focus on translational laboratory studies. Her studies enable development of new immunotherapy strategies for the treatment of cancer patients. She is a Professor in the departments of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology, and the Scientific Director for the Immunotherapy Platform at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. She is also the Co-Director of Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) and received the Emil Frei III Award for Excellence in Translational Research in 2016 and the Coley Award for Distinguished Research for Tumor Immunology in 2018. 

Sudhir Agrawal

Sudhir Agrawal, D. Phil, FRSC is a founder of Idera Pharmaceuticals. . He has served Idera Pharmaceuticals in various roles including Chairman, CEO, President of Research, and Chief Scientific Officer. In May 2017, he retired from Idera to pursue new scientific endeavors. He is currently serving as a member of the Business Advisory Board of The Harvard Medical School Initiative for RNA Medicine and has been appointed Visiting Professor, Deparment of Medicine at The University of Massachusetts Medical School.

He conducted his post-doctoral research at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Medical Research Council, Cambridge, UK, and at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, now merged with The University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, USA.

His research has been focused on the discovery and development of nucleic acid therapeutics. His pioneering publications on antisense technology in the late 1980's led to the establishment of a new drug discovery approach. His focus has been on creating novel antisense structures, which are now widely employed by both academia and industry in generating drug candidates. In collaboration, he has also published on the application of novel antisense design for exon skipping, which in itself has become a novel therapeutic modality. 

In the mid 1990's his group observed unintended immune activation with antisense in human clinical trials, which led him to convert this observation into the creation of another new drug discovery platform. The platform involves creating synthetic oligonucleotides based compounds to modulate host immune responses by engaging Toll-like receptors (TLRs). He has led the development of a number of compounds including IMO-2125, an agonist of TLR9, and IMO-3100, IMO-8400, and IMO-9200, antagonists of TLR7 and 9, and advanced them through human clinical proof of concept studies. Currently a Phase II trial of IMO-8400 is ongoing for treatment of dermatomyositis and of IMO-9200 for treatment of IBD.

Over the last five years he has led the development of intra-tumoral therapy of IMO-2125 from preclinical to clinical proof of concept studies. He guided the preclinical studies of IMO-2125 in a number of models of cancer including melanoma, lymphoma, colon, and pancreatic cancers, which provided a clear understanding of the importance of tumor microenvironment for immunotherapy outcomes. Furthermore, he led the studies of intra-tumoral IMO-2125 in combination with anti-CTLA4, anti PD-1, and IDO -1 inhibitors in these models, showing very potent and durable anti-tumor activity. Based on these pre-clinical studies, a Phase I/II clinical trial of intra-tumoral IMO-2125 in combination with Ipilumimab and Pembrolizumab in anti-PD1 refractory melanoma patients is currently in progress. Early clinical data has been presented and shows encouraging responses supported with translational immune markers, and a Phase III trial is ongoing.

He has authored over 300 research papers, reviews, and book chapters, has delivered over 200 invited lectures and presentations, edited three books on oligonucleotides and antisense, and is listed as co-inventor of over 400 patents worldwide.

Aurélien Marabelle

The Clinical Director of the Cancer Immunotherapy Program at Gustave Roussy Cancer Center in Villejuif, France. He did his MSc & PhD in Oncology & Immunology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France, & King’s College London, UK. He did his medical school at the University of Paris VI, France and received his medical degree from the University of Clermont-Ferrand, France. He completed his residency training in between Clermont-Ferrand & Lyon, and his clinical fellowship in Léon Bérard Cancer Center in Lyon.


During his 3 years post-doctoral research fellowship in Prof Ronald Levy’s lab at Stanford University, California he demonstrated the role of Treg depletion in the in vivo mechanism of action of anti-CTLA4 and anti-OX40 immune checkpoint antibodies. Dr Marabelle’s clinical practice is dedicated to Early Phase Clinical trials in Cancer Immunotherapy and his translational research is focused on mechanisms of action of immune checkpoint monoclonal antibodies. He works as a Senior Medical Oncologist and an investigator in the Drug Development Department (DITEP) of Prof Jean-Charles Soria. He is coordinating his translational research projects in the INSERM U1015 lab of Prof Laurence Zitvogel. Dr Marabelle is a member of ASCO & AACR.

Sandra Demaria

A native of Turin, received her M.D. degree in Italy. She then moved to New York City to train in cancer immunology with the support of a fellowship from the Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fund, and subsequently trained in anatomic pathology at New York University School of Medicine. In 2001, after completing the residency, she received a K08 career development award from NCI, and stayed at NYU as attending pathologist and member of the faculty. She developed an independent research lab funded by grants from ACS, NIH, DOD and several private foundations. She grew through the ranks and was promoted to Professor of Pathology and Radiation oncology in 2013.

Her work has been focused on understanding the mechanisms whereby ionizing radiation modulates tumor immunogenicity, and exploiting this property of radiation to improve the response to immunotherapy. Her laboratory was the first to show that radiotherapy can convert tumors unresponsive to immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors into responsive ones, a finding currently being translated in several clinical trials. She also served as the Co-leader of the Cancer Immunology program of NYU Cancer Center and Scientific Director of the Immune Monitoring Core. In September 2015 Dr. Demaria was recruited to lead the basic and preclinical studies of the research program in radiation and immunity newly created by Dr. Formenti at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

As a breast cancer pathologist Dr. Demaria has also studied the immunological microenvironment of breast cancer in patients and she is a member of an international tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TILs)-working group focused on developing a consensus for the evaluation of TILs in breast cancer. She holds leadership positions in national professional societies, including the Radiation Research Society, where she served as a Council member from 2009-2012, the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) where she currently serves on the Board, and is currently a member of the Steering Committee of AACR Cancer Immunology Working Group. She is also a member of the editorial board of several journals, including Journal of Immunology, Clinical Cancer Research, Radiation Research, and the Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer, and is a member of NIH study section.

Robert Andtbacka

Robert Andtbacka, MD, CM, FACS, FRCSC is an internationally renowned, board certified surgeon, tenured professor of surgical oncology and researcher. Before joining the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah in 2006, he completed a 3-year fellowship in surgical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He received his medical degree and training in general surgery at McGill University.

At HCI, Dr. Andtbacka specialized in surgery for melanoma, skin cancer, and soft tissue sarcomas. He established an internationally recognized comprehensive surgical and clinical research program, resulting in National Institute of Health (NIH) funding for developing novel imaging methods to detect lymphatic spread of cancer cells and to determine tumor margins. Dr. Andtbacka was instrumental in the melanoma practice changing Multicenter Selective Lymphadenectomy Trial II (MSLT-II). He has been the principal investigator in over 30 investigator-initiated, institutional, and multi-institutional clinical trials. He is a world leader in novel intratumoral oncolytic immunotherapies and was the lead investigator on the OPTiM Phase III clinical trial, which lead to the FDA approval of talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) in patient with unresectable metastatic melanoma. Dr. Andtbacka has presented his research at over 100 national and international meetings and has authored over 60 peer-reviewed publications, 4 book chapters, and over 50 webinars and podcasts.

Dr. Andtbacka served on the Melanoma Committee for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), and as the Utah State Chair for the Commission on Cancer. He was the Chief Medical Officer and Director of Clinical Research at Vestan Medical Imaging, where he led the clinical development of fluorescent sentinel lymph node imaging in patients with melanoma and breast cancer. Dr. Andtbacka is currently the Chief Medical Officer at Seven and Eight Biopharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company focusing on developing immuno-oncology therapies.