UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, has received a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Outstanding Investigator Award of $4.2 million in recognition of his research conducted in the development of new immunotherapies that utilize the human body’s own natural defenses to fight cancer.
Projects of Unusual Potential
The NCI Outstanding Investigator Award supports investigators with outstanding records of productivity in cancer research by providing extended funding stability and encouraging investigators to continue or embark on projects of unusual potential in cancer research.
Dr. Ribas’ recent clinical research led to the approval of pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for the treatment of advanced melanoma. Pembrolizumab is the first-in-class programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1)-blocking immunotherapy approved by the U.S Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
As part of the largest phase I study in the history of oncology, Dr. Ribas was principal investigator leading a clinical trial that enrolled more than 600 patients with metastatic melanoma. Because so many of the patients in the early testing showed significant long-lasting responses, the investigation was continued and the FDA granted the drug Breakthrough Therapy status, allowing it to be fast-tracked for approval in October 2014.
With the NCI award, Dr. Ribas and colleagues hope to build upon his prior work and develop new and innovative bench-to-beside-and-back research studies, with the goal of developing patient-centric advances in cancer immunotherapy for melanoma.
“I am extremely grateful to receive this generous recognition of my research by the National Cancer Institute,” Dr. Ribas said. “Immunotherapy provides some patients with advanced cancer a realistic chance at long-term survival. But currently, it only benefits a subset of patients. With this award, my research group will study why some patients benefit and many others do not, and this knowledge will hopefully lead to the testing of new combination treatments to provide benefit to more patients.”
The Outstanding Investigator Award will provide Dr. Ribas up to $600,000 in direct costs per year for 7 years, allowing substantial time for his laboratory to take greater risks and be more adventurous in its research. ■