The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research Expands Partnership with The Johns Hopkins University to Accelerate Groundbreaking Immunotherapy Research


Mark Foundation
Johns Hopkins investigators from left to right: Kellie Smith, Drew Pardoll, Alexander Szalay, Janis Taube. Credit: Larry Canner

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research and the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (BKI) announced today a new $10 million commitment at The Johns Hopkins University to fund novel work and advance immunotherapy research to provide lifesaving breakthroughs to people with cancer.

Immunotherapy drugs — more than all other cancer drugs approved in the last decade — are now becoming first-line therapies. Immunotherapy has been proven to treat certain cancers more effectively and with better survival rates than chemotherapy. Studies from The Mark Foundation Center and BKI demonstrate that giving immunotherapy before surgery can significantly reduce the size of tumors and, in some cases, eliminate or decrease relapse from undetected metastases. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved this approach to operable lung cancer as the standard of care.

“Cancer treatment is advancing every day, and immunotherapy is a big reason for that,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies and founding donor of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. “By teaming up with The Mark Foundation, this new investment will build on the cutting-edge work that Johns Hopkins and its partners are leading — saving lives and bringing us closer to bigger breakthroughs.”

The Mark Foundation Center for Advanced Genomics and Imaging, established in 2019, is co-led by Janis Taube, M.D., M.Sc., professor of dermatology and pathology and co-director of the Tumor Microenvironment Laboratory at BKI, and Drew Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., Abeloff Professor of Oncology and BKI director.

“In less than three years, The Mark Foundation Center at Johns Hopkins University has made outstanding progress in improving our knowledge of how tumors respond to immunotherapy,” said Ryan Schoenfeld, chief executive officer of The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. “Our collaboration with the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute allows us to develop the next-generation genomics and imaging platforms for cancer immunotherapy necessary to save lives. We believe that over the next five years, the number of cancer patients who will benefit will burgeon.”

The Mark Foundation Center’s fundamental research priorities include studying how cancer evades the immune system and spreads. Of the $10 million investment, The Mark Foundation is donating $6 million and BKI is providing $4 million, helping scientific teams to continue using innovative technologies to determine why certain patients do not respond to immunotherapies. The findings support clinical trials.

“We are reimagining how technology can solve the complex cancer problem, a key mission of The Mark Foundation Center for Advanced Genomics and Imaging,” says Pardoll. These include single cell genomics — which look at the inner workings of individual tumor cells and all the cells in and around it — and imaging technologies, together with high dimensional computational techniques such as artificial intelligence, to simplify the complex immune-tumor interactions within the tumor microenvironment.

Using AstroPath, a cancer-imaging platform, Taube and astrophysicist Alexander Szalay, Ph.D., a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy, lead ongoing research that applies the technology used to ascertain the position of galaxies to the spatial relations in the tumor microenvironment. AstroPath’s groundbreaking celestial mapping algorithms can analyze hundreds of millions of cells, so researchers receive a detailed picture of the tumor’s location in the body and how it reacts with surrounding tissues.

“AstroPath’s imaging algorithms provide 1,000 times more information from a single biopsy than is currently available through routine pathology. This information is game-changing in determining who is likely to respond to immunotherapy,” said Taube. “The expanded collaboration allows us to uncover why some patients have such remarkable responses when so many others do not. We are committed to finding new ways to intercept cancer, making immunotherapies work better.”

Technology-driven research supported by The Mark Foundation Center has already yielded important findings, as highlighted in recent publications in Science and Nature.

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About the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

Since its inception in 2016, the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins has established itself as an international center of excellence, cementing immunotherapy as the fourth key pillar of cancer treatment beyond surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Among its many breakthroughs, BKI has achieved great success in acquiring Food and Drug Administration approvals for the development of immune checkpoint blockades — drugs that release the restraints cancer cells place on the immune system — for a subset of all cancers, as well as the application of astronomy to radically transform pathologic imaging of the tumor microenvironment.

About The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research actively partners with scientists, research institutions and philanthropic organizations around the world to accelerate research that will transform the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Since 2017, The Mark Foundation has awarded more than $150 million in grants to enable innovative basic, translational and clinical cancer research, including drug discovery. In 2022, The Mark Foundation received an additional $500 million commitment to fund cutting-edge cancer research in its first decade. The Mark Foundation also has a robust and growing portfolio of investments in oncology companies developing novel therapeutics and diagnostics. Through its research and venture arms, The Mark Foundation supports projects throughout their life cycle to ensure their highest chance of success in impacting the lives of patients with breakthroughs in cancer care.