Immune Response to Cancer Cells: Dr. Adrian Sacher’s Research

How can we better understand how the body’s immune system responds to cancer cells? That’s the question that Dr. Adrian Sacher has focused his research on since 2019. And now, as the awardee of the 2020 LCFA/IASLC/BMS Young Investigator grant, Dr. Sacher is continuing his amazing research.

Dr. Sacher’s Work on Immune Response to Cancer Cells

Dr. Adrian Sacher, researcher and thoracic medical oncologist, specializes in immunotherapeutic drug development, adoptive cell therapy, and fundamental tumor immunology research at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre & University of Toronto. His research focuses on the development of new immunotherapeutics including:

  • drugs that keep immune responses from being too strong (immune checkpoint inhibitors)
  • drugs that activate receptors (immune agonists)
  • vaccines
  • the use of drugs to treat medical conditions (epigenetic therapy)
Dr. Adrian Sachar

Exploring the Science of Cancer Cells Instead of Space

Dr. Sacher always liked science, but did not think he would be a doctor. In fact, he had childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. But his fear of heights precluded him from pursuing that career. For lung cancer patients across the United States and Canada, his phobia is their gain.

Dr. Sacher completed his medical degree at the University of Toronto and residency at the Toronto General Hospital and Princess Margaret Cancer Center. Next he completed a research fellowship in thoracic oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He holds a Master’s degree in clinical trial design, genomics and drug development from Harvard Medical School. He has previously served as an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Attending Thoracic Oncologist at Columbia University & New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Focused Research in Immune Response

Dr. Sacher’s primary interest in understanding how and why a patient’s cells stop fighting off cancer cells. He has been developing tissue and blood based biomarkers as well as animal models to better understand the biology of anti-tumor immune responses.

Dr. Sacher has pursued his particular interest in the development of new experiment models to understand the basic ways that support anti-tumor immune responses. He has focused specifically on the development of new ways to test tumors in the lab setting. And, if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Sacher also has a strong interest in characterizing specific cells and their role as go-between of anti-tumor immune responses.

Award-winning Work in Immune Response to Cancer Cells

He currently works as a Clinical Investigator and Attending Physician as well as Assistant Professor of Medicine and cross-appointed to the Department of Immunology at the University of Toronto. His colleague, Dr. Natasha Leighl describes him as an outstanding physician. She commends his work at some of the most prestigious cancer hospitals in the world.

In addition, Dr. Sacher has won multiple awards, including the prestigious Conquer Cancer Foundation Career Development Award (2017). He has authored or co-authored over 30 peer-reviewed papers, and holds prestigious peer-reviewed grants as Principal Investigator for his work in the area of immunotherapy in lung cancer.

He has been awarded an American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Career Development Award (CDA) and Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant for his work on tumor immunotherapy.

Presenting Impactful Targeted Therapy Research Study

At the 2021 European Society for Medical Oncology Congress, Dr. Sacher presented results of a study which found that Poziotinib was found to demonstrate clinically meaningful activity when used in patients with metastatic non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who harbor EGFR exon 20 mutations.

Drug resistance is a big problem for lung cancer patients. Now new technology allows researchers to find molecules that could be used against cancers for which no other treatment options are available. In this study, researchers identified two drugs (gilteritinib and midostaurin) already approved for patients with a particular form of leukemia, as potential treatments for lung cancer patients with triple mutant epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). The tumors in these patients are highly resistant to available therapy.

Research Anti-tumor Response

Dr. Sacher and his Toronto team hope to demonstrate the efficacy of these drugs in patient trials, with the gilteritinib trial to launch first. If it proves successful, gilteritinib could, in a few years, become a new standard of care treatment for an estimated 60,000 lung cancer patients worldwide who have triple mutant EGFR.

“We already have a sense of gilteritinib doses that are safe to give to humans,” says Dr. Adrian Sacher, an oncologist at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, at University Health Network, who will lead the trial. “We only need to demonstrate efficacy and hopefully make them a novel treatment option for lung cancer patients that have developed resistance to current targeted therapies.”

Understanding the biology of immune response to cancer cells will open the door to more effective treatments for lung cancer patients.

In short, Dr. Sacher is a highly accomplished lung cancer physician and researcher and LCFA is proud to have awarded him the 2020 Young Investigator Award.


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