Hao Zhu, M.D., an associate professor at CRI, was one of seven researchers selected by the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research to receive their Emerging Leader Award. This award empowers early-career investigators to take on innovative, high-risk/high-reward projects that have significant potential to improve outcomes for cancer patients.
Dr. Zhu and his lab will use the award to study immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) resistance in cancer to find effective new therapies for several types of cancer. ICIs are drugs that harness the immune system to kill cancer cells and have revolutionized cancer therapy since their approval in 2011. However, not all cancer types respond to ICIs and many patients develop treatment resistance. Combination therapies may offer the best approach to overcome pre-existing or acquired resistance, but finding the right combinations and comparing them head-to-head is difficult and labor intensive.
Zhu lab researchers plan to use a new in vivo genetic screening approach they pioneered with mouse models of liver cancer to identify the most effective immunotherapy combinations for further pre-clinical testing. It is their hope that some of the most promising treatment combinations will eventually be evaluated in clinical trials.
“It would be impossible to do this kind of high-risk, high-reward science without an organization that is willing to place bets on promising but unproven strategies. We are thankful for the Mark Foundation‘s support and for the opportunity to give our discovery platform a chance to improve cancer treatments,” said Dr. Zhu who is also a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar in Cancer Research.