Augusta cancer director taking part in 'moonshot'



The director of the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University is taking part in the Cancer Moonshot Summit this week, where he believes the center is well-positioned to be part of a surge of research into using the body’s immune system to attack cancer.

Dr. Samir N. Khleif is scheduled to take part in a discussion at the White House on Tuesday afternoon with Vice President Joe Biden, whom President Obama tapped to head up the cancer initiative because of his family’s battle against the disease. Khleif will also take part in the summit Wednesday at Howard University in Washington, which includes a discussion about the next steps for the massive effort. He met last month with Greg Simon, whom Biden appointed as executive director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, to share some thoughts on where the initiative should focus.

“It is great to be part of that process” on behalf of the Georgia Cancer Center, Khleif said.

One personal concern he has is the expense of the current and future immunotherapies that could make up a big part of the research and therapy push.

“Currently, the drugs are very costly,” Khleif said. Research has shown that some current standard therapies, such as radiation therapy, could be used in new and different ways to alter the immune environment and enhance the effect of the immune therapies, he said.

Though the meetings this week will help determine the direction of the initiative, the emphasis on immune therapy means the Georgia Cancer Center is in tune with what the center is already pursuing, he said.

“We can participate in the research part,” Khleif said. “The good news is the moonshot, 50 percent of it is immune therapy and we’ve built a very, very strong tumor immunology and immune therapy program. So we’d have a good chance and opportunity to be an active player in that.”

The emphasis on personalized medicine would also play into the Georgia center’s strength in molecular oncology, he said.

“We have a very good molecular oncology program that could also play a big part in that,” Khleif said.


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