A personal view on cancer immunotherapy: an interview with Pablo Umaña
Pablo Umaña, Head of Cancer Immunotherapy Discovery at Roche Pharma Research and Early Development, shares his insights on how the field of cancer immunotherapy will evolve, why scientists in early research remain mindful of people affected by cancer, and what inspires him to come to work every day.
Where do you think the field of cancer immunotherapy will be in the next five to ten years?
“The immune checkpoint inhibitor monotherapies will hopefully be well established and we also hope to have a much better understanding of which patients will respond well. We look forward to seeing the next generation of approaches well advanced in clinical trials, using investigational combinations such as T cell bispecific antibodies and immuno-modulators to treat those patients who do not respond well to checkpoint inhibitors. We will learn much from the data coming from advanced clinical trials and hopefully be able to use that to design new molecules and combinations. The challenge is how to prioritize these combinations and the resources needed to validate them in the clinic.”
With your focus on molecules and research, is it hard to remain mindful of the people affected by cancer?
“Cancer is so common that I don’t think there are any of us today without family or friends who have not been touched by it, which makes our work even more significant. Even though we mainly work in the discovery phase of drug development, we collaborate closely with oncologists conducting clinical trials. They bring a valuable patient perspective back to us that is important when we consider the development of novel therapeutic approaches. On a more personal note, when one of Roche’s drugs was approved and launched, I met many patients who had been in clinical trials to study this drug. These people were tremendously brave, and by going into the clinical trials they not only helped us but they also helped the rest of the world and future patients. Hearing their stories was touching and an experience that I will never forget.”
What makes you want to come to work every day?
”What drives me is the exciting challenge and opportunity to make a significant contribution to the next generation of cancer immunotherapy molecules. Roche is one of the leading biopharmaceutical companies in the world and has the talent, expertise, tools and resources to make this a reality. The great thing about working here is that Roche only invests in differentiated therapies, which means focusing on generating truly novel options for patients. Roche already has a strong and diverse foundation in cancer immunotherapy; to be able to bring molecules to the clinic and test them, particularly in combination, holds tremendous promise to impact many different types of cancer. ”