Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, AbbVie Foundation Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research and Professor of Pathology and Medicine at the University of Chicago, was named by the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) as the recipient of the 2019 ESMO Immuno-Oncology Award for his groundbreaking work uncovering why some patients are resistant to immunotherapy and how to restore the anti-cancer immune response.
With a focus on immunotherapy and the recent award, he is selected by TrialSite News for placement in our Investigator Profile database. Dr. Thomas Gajewski investigates and develops new treatments for patients with melanoma. He leads development of immune-based therapies for other cancers, using fresh laboratory data on how the immune system is regulated to develop novel clinical trials. His work has helped bring cancer immunotherapy into the mainstream—and the rest is history as this class of therapy has had profound impact on patient outcomes. According to Michelle M. Le Beau, PhD, Author and Marian Edelstein Professor of Medicine and director of the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Gajewski’s “discoveries have shaped the field of cancer immunology and transformed the treatment landscape.”
After joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1997, he spent more than two decades working to increase our understanding of immune mechanisms and immune-tumor interactions—such as the breakthrough work he did with the CTLA-4 immune checkpoint in the 1990s and characterization of the T cell-inflamed tumor microenvironment, a term he coined to describe a major subset of tumors from patients whose cellular environments harbor qualities that make them more likely to respond to immunotherapies.
Back in 2014, his lab revealed how the Simulator of Interferon Genes (“STING”) signals the body’s innate immune system to attack tumor cells. In January 2018, he published a study in Science (cover feature) showing that specific strains of gut bacteria might improve the response rate to immunotherapy for patients being treated for metastatic melanoma.
Inventions, Patents and Startups
It was research that followed his labs’ breakthrough in 2015, published in Science, connecting specific intestinal bacteria to greater potency for immunotherapy in mouse models. This discovery led to a collaboration with Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to file patent applications, which led to a licensing deal with Evelo Biosciences. They have taken the underlying intellectual property—the first monoclonal microbial cancer therapy used to modulate the gut microbiome—to a Phase I clinical trial.
His name is associated as inventor on 46 patents, and three of his patent portfolios are licensed to companies developing immunotherapies. He worked at the Polsky Center to launch Pyxis Oncology, a startup to develop immunotherapies based on new discoveries in his lab. This company just recently raised $22 million.
His work has generated interest worldwide. For example, due to his contribution on the topic of the microbiome, he was featured in WIRED UK in February 2018 and Nature in May 2018. contributing directly to growing cultural interest and awareness of immunotherapies.