The Promise of
Laurie H. Glimcher, MD,
Dean of the Medical College
the lab developing new ways to treat a highly
aggressive form of lymphoma, one that’s resistant to chemotherapy. By learning how epigenetic
alterations switch off genes that normally trigger
cell death, Cerchietti discovered a drug that
reverses that process, essentially reprogramming
the lymphoma into a less aggressive disease.
That biochemical understanding of DNA led to
a proof-of-concept trial in which eleven out of
twelve patients achieved complete remission,
proving that supporting basic science translates
into saving lives.
Investing in early research is a key part of
our mission to put the patient at the center of
everything we do. Another Weill Cornell initiative—the Caryl and Israel Englander Institute for
Precision Medicine, directed by Mark Rubin,
MD, and also featured in this issue—is poised to
lead the way in treating cancers and other diseases on the basis of an individual’s genome and
a molecular understanding of disease. Recent
successes at the Institute, which opened nearly
three years ago as one of the first of its kind,
provide a glimpse of the future as data-driven
technologies combine with our deepening
understanding of human biology and chemistry
to offer personalized and individually tailored
therapies for especially intractable conditions.
Precision medicine is already enabling a sea
change in oncology, and innovations in the
field are showing tremendous potential for the
treatment of numerous other diseases.
These examples are just a few of many that
demonstrate the promise and the payoff of early
discoveries. They highlight the deep commitment we at Weill Cornell have to advancing
human health by supporting foundational
science as well as clinical care. And they illuminate the need for our society to make a renewed
commitment through public funding for
biomedical research at every stage. It is these
commitments that will sustain and enhance
patient care in the twenty-first century.
Afew years ago, biochemist Frederick Maxfield, PhD ’77, hit upon some promising results in
the lab—a discovery that offered new hope for
patients with Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare and
fatal disease often called “childhood
Alzheimer’s.” Then he was told something that’s all too familiar to many medical researchers: his idea was considered
too preliminary to attract interest from
pharmaceutical companies or granting
agencies. Without the funding to pursue
it further, his work in this area stalled.
Then last year, Maxfield’s project
became one of seven accepted by the new
Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery
Institute (Tri-I TDI). This nonprofit incubator—jointly run by Weill Cornell
Medical College, Memorial Sloan
Kettering Cancer Center, and The
Rockefeller University—is changing the
way therapies are brought to market by
supporting early-stage drug development.
Seeking to narrow the chasm that has traditionally separated academia and industry, the Institute allows scientists from
each sector to work side by side, contributing their different strengths and
ways of thinking. In doing so, the Institute will
shepherd promising early discoveries through
the proof-of-concept stage, presenting a more
attractive opportunity for pharmaceutical company investment.
Tri-I TDI, which you’ll read about in this issue,
is an example of Weill Cornell’s commitment to
pioneering innovative, twenty-first century
approaches to support basic science—something
that’s essential to the development of new and
better therapies for patients with so many different diseases. Consider the success we have had in
treating lymphoma, which is the focus of another
story in this issue of Weill Cornell Medicine.
Leandro Cerchietti, MD, has spent many years in