Dr. Mario Sznol graduated from Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Texas. He trained in internal medicine at BCM and completed a medical oncology fellowship in the Department of Neoplastic Diseases, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York. He spent the next twelve years in the Biologics Evaluation Section (BES), Investigational Drug Branch (IDB), Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program of the National Cancer Institute, and was Head of the BES from 1994-1999. He attended on the inpatient units of the Biological Response Modifiers Program, NCI, from 1988-1996 and the Immunotherapy Service of the Surgery Branch, NCI, from 1997-1999. From 1999-2004, he served as Vice President of Clinical Development and Executive Officer of Vion Pharmaceuticals in New Haven, Connecticut. In 2004, he joined the medical oncology faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine as co-leader of the Melanoma Program and is currently Professor of Internal Medicine, Associate Chief of Medical Oncology, Translational Research Leader of the Melanoma-Renal Cancer Disease-Associated Research Team, and Co-Director of Yale SPORE in Skin Cancer. He has a long-standing interest in and focuses on phase I clinical trials of immunotherapy agents and new drug development for melanoma and renal cell carcinoma.
What are the two or three critical issues facing cancer immunotherapy?
The recent success of cancer immunotherapy is unprecedented. As a class, the PD-1/PD-L1 antagonists have broader activity across malignancies than any other anti-cancer agent developed to date. Furthermore, immune modulating agents are now the most effective treatments for various types of malignancies. Multiple promising targets for immune modulation to produce effective anti-cancer immunity have been discovered, many new agents against these targets are being developed, and many new investigators and companies have entered into our field.
Nevertheless, substantial challenges remain in order to realize the full potential of immune anti-cancer therapy. Additional investments and increased funding are required to fully understand human tumor immunobiology and to understand the critical signals required to produce effective anti-tumor immune responses in each individual patient. The mechanisms of action and resistance tor therapeutic agents remain to be defined. In order to efficiently and rapidly develop the vast number of agents and combinations, the field needs a large investment in basic and correlative science to discover effective predictive biomarkers. In addition, our regulatory processes and clinical trial infrastructure must evolve to handle the increasingly large, complex, and demanding clinical trials. Our field cannot fully reach its potential unless we commit to training more basic science, translational, and clinical investigators. Finally, if we hope to benefit the greatest number of patients, we must effectively train nurses and physicians in the delivery and management of novel immune therapies.
How do you feel the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer would benefit from your involvement as an At-Large Director on the Board?
I have experience in studying and developing immune therapies in government, biotech, and an academic center. I understand the different challenges from more than one perspective and feel that I am well-positioned to support and assist my colleagues in developing effective approaches to address the challenges. I believe I can work together with the leadership and members of the SITC to fulfill its mission.