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UCSF’s Lawrence Fong, MD, Earns NCI Award for Cancer Immunotherapy Research

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has honored Lawrence H. Fong, MD, leader of the UC San Francisco Cancer Immunotherapy Program, with an Outstanding Investigator Award (R35). These awards support investigators who have significant records of productivity in cancer research with multiyear funding for projects of exceptional potential.

With this award of $4.2 million over seven years, Fong’s project, “Determinants of response to cancer immunotherapy,” will use single-cell approaches to study response and resistance to various immune checkpoint inhibitors. The goals are to identify the precise immune cells that can be induced to kill tumor cells and then develop immunotherapies tailored to drive these cells.

“Immunotherapy is transforming how we treat cancer,” Fong said. “Patients who respond to these treatments can have complete regression of their cancer and go back to living normal lives, but this happens only in a minority of patients. The NCI award project is focused on understanding why this is. We’re using new approaches to understand the immune system, so that we can develop treatments that are effective in more patients.”

UCSF Cancer Immunotherapy Program (CIP)

Led by Fong, the CIP provides patients with streamlined access to cutting-edge cancer immunotherapies. It also has a team of specialists focused on managing cancer immunotherapy side effects in patients, known as immune-related adverse events (irAEs).

As the CIP’s clinical arm, the UCSF Cancer Immunotherapy Clinic brings together expert UCSF physicians from all cancer subspecialties, working closely with scientists from UCSF and beyond to revolutionize cancer treatments. Fong and his team aim to rapidly translate new scientific discoveries into tangible clinical benefits for patients.

Immunotherapy clinical trials

Fong’s clinical work as a medical oncologist caring for patients informs his research. He and his team are conducting a wide range of clinical trials, including several that are looking at immunotherapy for treating prostate cancer. Three trials of interest are:

  1. Pembrolizumab +/- SD-101 in Hormone-Naïve Oligometastatic Prostate Cancer With RT and iADT
  2. Adenosine Receptor Antagonist Combination Therapy for mCRPC
  3. P-PSMA-101 CAR-T Cells in the Treatment of Subjects With Metastatic Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer (mCRPC)

“The first trial combines an immune checkpoint inhibitor and immune stimulator with radiation and androgen deprivation therapy (ADT),” Fong said. “The second trial looks at a novel dual immune checkpoint inhibitor, and the third studies CAR-T cells for treating prostate cancer.”

The evolution of cancer immunotherapy

“For much of my career, people believed cancer immunotherapy was science fiction,” Fong said. “We have seen this field transition from laboratory research to one of the pillars of cancer treatment in the clinic.

“I am honored to receive the NCI Outstanding Investigator Award, which will allow us to be bolder in the questions that we can ask and focus on a longer time horizon,” he added. “Cancer immunotherapy represents the ultimate form of precision medicine: a patient’s immune system targeting their own tumor. The next challenge is to figure out who will respond and how to tailor treatment so that more patients benefit.”

UCSF Medical Center is ranked Best in the Northern California for cancer care by U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 Best Hospitals survey.

All cancer research and treatment takes place within the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

To learn more

UCSF Cancer Immunotherapy Clinic

Phone: (415) 353-2421

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Clinical trials