Prevention is goal of groundbreaking immunotherapy trial.

Prevention is goal of groundbreaking immunotherapy trial.

When asked what motivates her to support cancer research, Susan Hertog starts at the beginning, when her best friend was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 49.

It was 1994, and research was still years away from the robust understanding we have today of the genetic drivers of cancer. Immunotherapy treatments were not yet available. Genetic testing was in its infancy. Years later, in the mid-2000s, Susan herself was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer and lived firsthand the marked improvements in treatments. She would call herself lucky, but asserts that it’s more than luck—it’s the brilliance of researchers and clinicians constantly working to improve cancer care.

These experiences inspired Susan and her husband, Roger, to begin supporting cancer research, through philanthropic gifts to research initiatives around the country, and through Susan’s position on the board of directors of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

The Hertogs know the critical role that prevention plays in cancer care, and the critical role that Dana-Farber is playing in this space—prevention is a key strategic priority for the Institute and The Dana-Farber Campaign. In support of these efforts, the Hertogs gave $1 million to fund the prevention-focused INteRCEPT trial led by Glenn Hanna, MD. This is one of the first-ever studies evaluating the efficacy of immunotherapy in cancer prevention for patients with high-risk oral precancerous disease.

In 2021, Hanna and his colleagues identified a population of oral precancerous patients who may benefit from immunotherapy. Now, a phase 2 clinical trial is underway to test a new injectable immunotherapy agent as a method of preventing progression to oral cancer.

“We previously have shown that patients with a high-risk precursor condition that progresses to oral cancer in up to 80% of patients, have precancerous tissues rich with immunologic cells and inflammatory T cells,” said Hanna, who serves as director of the Center for Cancer Therapeutic Innovation and the Center for Salivary and Rare Head and Neck Cancers at Dana-Farber. “Thanks in part to Susan and Roger’s generous funding, we are now testing targeting these cells with new immunotherapy drugs.”

While the INteRCEPT trial is primarily focused on oral cancer, the results have the potential to be adapted to other precancerous conditions, such as those that lead to gastrointestinal, pancreatic, and skin cancers.

“We were intrigued because the object of Dr. Hanna’s study is prevention and early intervention, which is critical to the study of any form of cancer,” said Susan. “Metastasis, at this moment in time, is incurable. Dana-Farber’s emphasis on catching cancer early is important, and impressive.”

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