Researcher Spotlight: Marco Ruella, MD
Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has been very successful in certain cancers, such as B-cell leukemia and lymphoma. However, the needle has not moved for most other malignancies, particularly T-cell lymphomas that are characterized by poor prognosis with current therapies. Dr. Ruella’s LRF research project proposes to develop a novel approach for patients with relapsed or refractory T-cell lymphoma by developing a novel CAR T cell therapy that recognizes the tumor-associated target CD5. He developed a strategy to enhance CAR T cell efficacy by using the genetic engineering technology called CRISPR-Cas9. Dr. Ruella will begin by testing this novel engineered CART5 immunotherapy product in a first-inhuman clinical trial and study the factors and biomarkers associated with clinical success. “The proposed research is highly relevant to public health because patients with relapsed and refractory T-cell lymphomas have no available cures, and we desperately need to develop personalized and novel therapies for these patients,” Dr. Ruella explains.“This study will significantly impact the field of cancer immunotherapies by developing a novel potent anti-T-cell lymphoma immunotherapy.”
Dr. Ruella is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and the Scientific Director of the Lymphoma Program at Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He began his medical training with an MD from the University of Torino, School of Medicine, in Orbassano, Italy, and continued with a residency and fellowship at the same institution. During his medical training, Dr. Ruella was introduced to lymphoma by his mentor Dr. Corrado Tarella, who translated his enthusiasm to develop novel and innovative therapies for lymphoma. “Since medical school, I had the dream to become a physician-scientist to change the treatment paradigms for relapsed and refractory lymphoma,” recalls Dr. Ruella.
His dream became a reality at the University of Pennsylvania when he assisted Dr. Carl June in engineering immune cells. His work at the University of Pennsylvania in an LRF-supported study in 2015 led to the publication of a first-author manuscript (Ruella M. Clinical Cancer Research, 2016) that showed for the first time that CAR T cells can be successfully combined with small molecules. “Today, the LRF CDA is allowing me to have protected time during the critical stage of my career when I am translating our preclinical research to the clinic” says
Dr. Ruella. “I cannot overstate the fundamental role that the LRF has played in my career development and success throughout the years.” Dr. Ruella’s career goal is to manage a translational group focused on advancing personalized treatments for patients with lymphoma. “In an ideal scenario, I would like to be able to craft personalized therapy for each patient based on their molecular, immunological and epigenetic profile,” he says.