Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, MD, the newly appointed director of the National Cancer Institute, visited the Medical Campus this week to talk about the institute’s research enterprise and hear from faculty, students and staff as part of a listening and learning tour.
“I’ve learned a lot about immunotherapy (on the Medical Campus) and had the opportunity to talk with a number of talented WashU faculty to get a sense of the exciting things going on here,” Sharpless said. “It just reinforces that this is a very special, wonderful academic institution.”
He gave the keynote address at the second annual Bursky Centersymposium on human immunology and immunotherapies. “The dramatic advances in cancer immunotherapy we are seeing today are the results of decades-long investment in basic research on the immune system,” Sharpless said, noting that the NCI continues to invest significant resources in research to understand why immunotherapies work in some patients and not others, and in studies to enhance the effectiveness of such therapies and reduce side effects.
During a town hall meeting led by Sharpless and co-sponsored by Siteman Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, he heard from faculty and students concerned about research funding. He also talked about the need to modernize clinical trials and incorporate big data more effectively into research, and he advocated for investments in basic science.
“As NCI director, I will continue to support a full-throated, unapologetic commitment to basic science,” Sharpless said. “The reason I feel that way is while we have a lot of great ideas, and we’re making a lot of progress and it is an exciting and awesome time in cancer research – with great therapeutic advances happening at WashU and places like WashU – we haven’t really figured cancer out. There are still diseases we don’t understand, there are clinical problems for which we have no good ideas, and we need more basic science.”