Researchers awarded grant to study strategy to improve immunotherapy response

With a $1.74 million grant from the NIH, UNC Lineberger researchers led by H. Shelton Earp, MD, will study a potential new strategy for improving immunotherapy drug responses in patients with melanoma.

Researchers awarded grant to study strategy to improve immunotherapy response click to enlarge Dr. H. Shelton Earp, MD, UNC Cancer Care Director and joint Professor in the Deptment of Pharmacology

February 16, 2017

UNC Cancer Care Director H. Shelton Earp, MD, has received a five-year, $1.74 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study a potential new strategy for improving immunotherapy drug responses in patients with melanoma.

Earp and his colleagues will study whether the MERTK protein suppresses the immune system’s response to cancer. The researchers believe this protein signal could be preventing some melanomas from having a more robust response to “checkpoint inhibitors” drugs, which are widely used in cancer patients. The researchers will study whether investigational compounds developed at UNC can reverse the MERTK protein’s immuno-supressive effect.

“There is great interest in the potential for harnessing the immune system to fight cancer,” said Earp, who is a UNC Lineberger member and the Lineberger Professor of Cancer Research at the UNC School of Medicine. “We know that checkpoint inhibitors work for fewer than half of melanoma patients. But what about the rest - the patients who don’t appear to have an effective immune response? These are the patients we want to help.”

Dr. Earp is a joint professor in the Department of Pharmacology.

Read the full article by Laura Oleniacz on the School of Medicine online Newsroom