One of the largest gifts in the school’s history, it will help researchers find new ways to deploy immune-based cancer treatments, particularly in the emerging field of cell-based therapies.
“Immunology is the right place for a big investment. It is clear to me that this is the most exciting area in all of science,” Brown, a 1985 graduate of the IU School of Medicine who founded three software companies, said in a press release.
“It has tremendous potential for long-sought breakthroughs in cancer, but also autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and a whole range of conditions,: he said. “We have tremendous resources and talent in Indiana. Hopefully my contribution can push us over the top to do some really exciting things.”
Cell-based therapies are a subfield of immuno-oncology that have shown promise in treating cancer patients.
Cancers thrive partly because tumor cells deliver signals to immune cells that tell them to leave the tumor alone. Cell-based immunotherapies help the immune system recognize and attack tumor cells.
The first step in creating a therapy is genetically engineering a patient’s immune cells to recognize specific proteins in tumor cells. Scientists then create large numbers of the tumor-killing cells in a lab, and inject them back into the patient’s bloodstream.
One of the benefits of a cell-based therapy approach is that the cells become living treatments, staying in the body for years.
“Our hope is to show this therapy’s ability and effectiveness in one or two diseases while we simultaneously develop technology that is broadly applicable to many, many diseases,” said Anantha Shekhar, the school’s executive associate dean for research affairs.
Thirteen million dollars of the donation will be used to establish five faculty chairs. The remaining $17 million will go toward creating infrastructure and developing technologies to fuel research.
“Our vision is not simply to build a center or facility that can make immune cells and give treatments to a limited number of patients here in Indiana,” Shekhar said. “Our vision is to create a program that will transform the whole technology so that thousands of patients all over the world can benefit from it.”