Damian Green, M.D., to Lead Transplantation and Cellular Therapy

The blood cancer expert comes to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center after leading the discovery and testing of several pioneering immunotherapy approaches.

Damian Green, M.D., still remembers the first cancer patient he encountered as a medical student.

He was on one of his first rotations at Ohio State University and tagging along as the attending physician performed morning rounds. The attending had to deliver a new diagnosis of lung cancer to a woman who’d been admitted to the hospital.

“When she heard she had lung cancer, the first thing she said to us was, ‘When you have a cancer diagnosis, what organs can you still donate?’” Dr. Green said. “I was just floored by the goodness in that question.”

Damian Green, M.D., standing outside an office building
Damian Green, M.D., brings his extensive blood cancer research and practice experience to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In the ensuing 20 years in medical practice as a stem cell transplant physician, oncologist and clinical researcher in Seattle, Dr. Green has seen the best of humanity in his patients, over and over. When they agree to donate extra bone marrow to further research, even if any resulting discoveries might come too late for themselves. When they face a terrifying diagnosis and keep moving forward. When their first thought is how their organs can be used to help others.

Now, Dr. Green is joining Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, to bring his care and research discoveries to a different set of patients in need. Starting March 1, he will be chief of Sylvester’s Division of Transplantation and Cellular Therapy and assistant director of translational research.

Expertise in Blood Cancers

Dr. Green joins Sylvester with extensive blood cancer research and practice experience at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, specifically multiple myeloma and other B-cell malignancies. In his research lab, he’s led the discovery and testing of several pioneering immunotherapy approaches to treating myeloma and other blood cancers.

“Damian has a long track record of innovative and groundbreaking approaches to immunotherapy by improving cellular and antibody-based approaches for patients with multiple myeloma or lymphoma. He is superbly qualified to assume leadership of our outstanding transplantation and cellular therapy efforts, and his research mentorship will elevate our training of the next generation of physician-scientists,” said Stephen Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester, Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and executive dean for research at the Miller School. “We are thrilled to have Damian join our growing team of cancer research experts at Sylvester. His pioneering work in the field of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapies, combined with his thoughtful approach to cancer care, will touch many patients’ lives.”

Dr. Green is hoping to use his expertise and experience treating and researching multiple myeloma, lymphoma and related cancers to help expand Sylvester’s work in immunotherapy for blood cancers.

“Sylvester is an amazing cancer center with remarkable people and very strong programs,” Dr. Green said. “I’m thrilled to be part of the center’s growth and to help contribute more broadly to the field of cancer discovery.”

Scientific Discovery to Patient Care

From the beginning of his career as a physician, Dr. Green wanted to marry research discovery with patient care. His work at Fred Hutch has entailed leading a research lab, practicing in the clinic, caring for stem cell transplant patients in the hospital and shepherding research discoveries through the complicated translational process to clinical trials and ultimately to clinical practice.

Much of his work has centered around immunotherapy for multiple myeloma that is aimed at a protein on the surface of B cells, known as CD38. In the early days of immunotherapy research, few people focused on this protein, Dr. Green said, believing it to be a poor target for cancer-killing cell therapies and other immunotherapies.

But work by Dr. Green and others in the field showed CD38 to be an effective target for therapies. Today, several drugs targeting CD38 exist. Green also developed radiolabeled antibodies, a form of radioimmunotherapy, for this protein. Radiolabeled antibodies bring the cancer-killing power of radiation to cancer cells in a targeted way. These antibodies are currently being tested in a clinical trial.

More recently, Dr. Green led the discovery and clinical testing of a way to enhance multiple myeloma cell killing by engineered T cells, repurposing a failed Alzheimer’s drug known as a gamma secretase inhibitor. This small molecule prevents tumor cells from cutting off one of their surface proteins, BCMA, a protein recognized by engineered immune cells in cell CAR T-cell therapy. Leaving more BCMA proteins on the surface of cancer cells promises to improve the efficacy of the cell therapy.

Motivated to Cure the Incurable

Although Green’s discoveries could one day impact patients with many different types of cancers, he’s especially motivated to improve treatments for those with multiple myeloma, a currently incurable form of blood cancer.

With the advent of more immune-based treatments, he’s seen doors open for many of his patients who were previously bereft of viable options. But a true cure remains elusive.

“In our cell therapy studies, two of our patients went from being essentially debilitated to whitewater rafting or surfing within six months. But those two patients, and many others, relapsed,” Dr. Green said. “Having seen patients go from a position of suffering and really limited opportunity to being freed to live their lives, and then sometimes seeing these folks have to step back as their disease progresses again, there’s no greater motivator for me than trying to stop that last event from occurring. My goal is to give patients the opportunity to live their lives the way they want to, not just for a short window of time, but permanently.”

Tags: B-cell lymphomas, blood cancers, Dr. Damian Green, immunotherapy, multiple myeloma, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, transplant