Meet the Researcher: Vito Palombella, Surface Oncology 

Cancer cell

At the American Association of Cancer Research’s Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, DDW’s Megan Thomas met with industry experts to learn more about their research and careers in the field of cancer research. Thomas speaks with Vito Palombella, Chief Scientific Officer at Surface Oncology. 

MT: Where do you work, and can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?  

VP: I’m the CSO of Surface Oncology and on my average day, I’m responsible for all of non-clinical development at Surface Oncology which includes research, translational, as well as pharmaceutical development.  

At Surface Oncology, we are focused on the tumour microenvironment, which tends to be very immunosuppressive. So, we have four antibodies in the clinic against various targets within the tumour microenvironment to make the tumour microenvironment more permissive for your immune system. Two of our programmes are currently partnered – one with GSK, one with Novartis. But the two that are wholly owned by us are Anti IL27 antibodies that target a cytokine, which is very important in suppressing various immune cells within the tumour microenvironment. That is currently in a Phase II clinical trial.  

At AACR 2023, we’re presenting some preclinical data on our fourth programme, our anti CCRA antibody, which targets intratumoral T regs for depletion. By targeting intratumoral T regs, you will remove those T regs selectively from the tumour microenvironment, then allowing a remodelling of the tumour microenvironment to allow the immune system to actually attack and kill the tumour. 

MT: Where do you think there will be the most opportunity in this field in the next five to 10 years? 

VP: So, in immunooncology right now, the chances of you seeing single agent activity, like with an anti PD1 antibody, are pretty low. It tends to be more of a unicorn type of antibody. So, I think the challenges here, as well as the opportunities here, are really figuring out the science and figuring out how to do combination trials. It’s not going to be cheap to run these trials, in fact it’s going to be costly to run multiple trials like that, but I think that’s really where the field is going. That’s what you’ve been seeing with all of the data that’s been presented so far at AACR 2023.  

MT: What has been the highlight of your career so far? 

VP: I’ve been in biotech for almost 30 years now, and I have to say it’s probably threefold. One is the people that I’ve been able to work and interact with. Two is the science – the drug discovery and development I have been able to do. Finally, three is that I have been lucky enough to work on three drugs from early non-clinical development all the way through to the clinic that have been approved. That’s very satisfying. You take that with you. 

MT: If you could make everyone read one book, article or academic paper, what would it be and why? 

VP: I think everybody should read The Emperor of All Maladies, a book by Siddhartha Mukherjee. That book was very inspiring, even to someone like me, who’s in the field. I’d be very surprised if you’re not inspired after you read that book to really want to work on oncology clinic development. That book was clearly the book 

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