Francis Collins: Steve Rosenberg is a hero in this field. No question about it. He has labored on this issue of how you could get the immune system to be an ally in fighting off cancer for decades, and frankly, it’s been a tough go, and many people, as recently as ten years ago, would have said, “This is just not a productive area. We should stop trying ’cause it isn’t ever going to work,” but Steve would say, “Well, wait a minute. Let me show you this patient with metastatic melanoma,” which is an area where he had some dramatic responses.
And the critics would go, “Okay, well, that’s one patient, but most of the time you failed, right?” And he would have to say, “Yes, but there was a reason why I succeeded, and I need to figure out what’s the difference between when it worked and when it didn’t, and then maybe we can make it work more often.” Now here we are, ten years after that skepticism, where everybody would agree that cancer immunotherapy is just about the hottest science going anywhere because of other realizations, but Steve’s been a big part of this, that there are ways to unlock this mystery, to get that sleeping immune system, which is unfortunately sleeping most of the time when it should be going after those cancer cells, to wake up.
And some of that is by identifying pathways where the cancer cells very cleverly send a signal to the immune system saying, “Go to sleep. It’s okay. Nothing going on here. Nothing to see.” And we can block that signal now, and the immune system wakes up and goes, “Whoa. What’s going on over there?” And they go after it, and some of it is actually teaching immune cells what to do, taking them to graduate school and teaching them, “Hey, there’s a cancer over here. We’re going to give you the tools you need to go after it.”