PHILADELPHIA—The Allen Institute has announced the launch of the Allen Institute for Immunology, a new division of the Institute that is dedicated to studying the human immune system. Penn Medicine will join four other leading clinical research organizations to understand the dynamic balancing act of the human immune system, how it senses friend from foe and what goes wrong during illness.
The Allen Institute for Immunology, made possible by a generous commitment of $125 million by Allen Institute founder, the late Paul G. Allen, aims to improve human immune health and lay the groundwork for better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent immune-related diseases. In its initial phase, the Institute will focus on studies of two cancers, multiple myeloma and melanoma, and three autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, specifically, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The researchers will also take a deep dive into the immune systems of healthy volunteers with the goal of understanding what makes a “normal” immune baseline and how to help patients return to that healthy state.
The Penn Medicine team, led by E. John Wherry, PhD, chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics and director of the Institute for Immunology at Penn, will work with the Allen Institute for Immunology to better understand normal baseline of immune health in children in partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and immune distresses in humans treated with immune-modifying drugs to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or malignant melanoma.
A key goal will be to understand how immune-based therapies affect immune responses to unrelated events such as routine vaccination. Understanding the immune details of how immune-based treatments for IBD and cancer more broadly impact the immune system will help researchers understand why some people benefit from these treatments and some don’t. These studies will be a foundation that will help the researchers develop better, more targeted treatments that could work for more people — potentially with fewer side effects. Wherry and his team will work closely with other partner institutions studying related adult healthy subjects and patients with other cancers or rheumatoid arthritis.
“We’re essentially looking at the immune system like a new opportunity for developing drugs in the long term. If we can understand the immune system, we can turn it in the patients’ favor to treat many, many diseases,” Wherry said. “I think if we do this right, we will change the way we practice medicine, we will change medical ideas about what immunology is, and we will turn immunology into a clinical discipline.”
“By unraveling the mysteries of the dynamic immune system in healthy individuals and focusing the same cutting-edge tools on patients in various disease states, we believe we will find new ways to diagnose and ultimately treat disease,” said Thomas F. Bumol, PhD, executive director of the Allen Institute for Immunology. “We are looking at problems that have large unmet needs. Patients are not only suffering from these immune-based illnesses, patients are dying from some of these disorders, and we would like to change that.”
The Allen Institute for Immunology will build off the model of large-scale team science established by the Allen Institute’s other research divisions and will work directly with samples and data from patients and healthy volunteers, thanks to a unique partnership with established clinical research organizations. Penn Medicine joins Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason; Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; the University of California, San Diego; and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in partnering with the Allen Institute for Immunology in the new effort.
Read more in the Allen Institute for Immunology press release.
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