Ryotaro Nakamura, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, has been named as the 2008-09 recipient of the Tim Nesvig Research Fellowship in Lymphoma. Nakamura intends to use the fellowship to further the development of a novel immunotherapy drug.
“I am very honored and pleased to receive the Tim Nesvig Research Fellowship,” said Nakamura. “I have a great appreciation for all the people who support lymphoma research through the fellowship fund and, personally, it is great encouragement to challenge myself to live up to the legacy of Tim Nesvig.”
|Attendees at the City of Hope Golf Classic include, from left, Scott Duxbury, Mieke Nesvig Duxbury, Carrie Nesvig, Stephen J. Forman, Ryotaro Nakamura, Jon Nesvig, Hanneke Nesvig and Megumi Nakamura. (Photo by AmyCantrell.com)|
The fellowship was established in memory of Tim Nesvig, a lifelong athlete and marketing executive who worked for ESPN/ABC Sports. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma in 2003 and underwent a stem cell transplant at City of Hope. Sadly, his aggressive form of lymphoma stopped responding to therapy, and he died at the age of 30 in 2005. The Nesvig family established the fellowship and a general research fund, under the direction of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell
Transplantation and chair of the department, to advance research into novel lymphoma treatments at City of Hope.
Nakamura began developing an immunocytokine to treat lymphoma five years ago. It is an engineered fusion protein that combines two proteins to attack lymphoma cells. One protein is an antibody targeted to both latch onto CD20 receptors on a lymphoma cell and kill the cell. The other protein is the cytokine interleukin-2, which helps stimulate the immune system to fight lymphoma cells.
“Our laboratory tests have demonstrated that the two proteins separately are not as effective in killing lymphoma cells as the single molecule we developed of the two proteins fused together,” said Nakamura.
The immunocytokine is a multidisciplinary effort across City of Hope. Nakamura
performed the translational research and developed the clinical trial using the fusion protein, which was developed by the laboratory of Andrew Raubitschek, M.D., chair of the Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology. The Center for Biomedicine & Genetics manufactures the drug for use in research and clinical trials on campus.
Nakamura is currently conducting a phase I clinical trial with the immunocytokine in patients with low-grade and intermediate grade B-cell, or CD20-positive, lymphoma, or those that have relapsed after an autologous hematopoietic cell transplantation.
“We are in early stage testing to determine safety, dosage and schedule,” said Nakamura. “We have been able to infuse two patients with the immunocytokine treatment, and their response has been encouraging.”
Nakamura will continue his research into immune system changes in patients who
receive the immunocytokine as well as ways to boost those immune responses. He hopes to design the fusion protein so that it enables the patient’s immune system to create antibodies that identify and fight off lymphoma cells, which also may help the patient avoid relapse after treatment.
The Tim Nesvig Lymphoma Fellowship and Research Fund is a donor-supported fund that has generated $5.2 million through various fundraising initiatives, including the annual City of Hope Golf Classic. The most recent golf tournament raised more than $900,000, thanks to the support of corporate sponsors such as FOX, DIRECTV, Comcast and Sprint, along with individual donors and friends of the Nesvig family.
Past recipients of the fellowship include Mark Kirschbaum, M.D., director of new drug development, and Leslie Popplewell, M.D., assistant professor, both in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.