Dr. Saenger on the Importance of Biomarkers When Administering Immunotherapy

Yvonne Saenger, MD
Published Online: Thursday, Oct 27, 2016



Yvonne Saenger, MD, director of Melanoma Immunotherapy at Columbia University Medical Center, discusses the importance of developing accurate biomarkers when it comes to administering immunotherapy.

Recent data related to anti-PD1 agents, which Saenger claims to currently be the most effective type of immunotherapy, demonstrated a 5-year survival rate of 35%. Given that these rates used to be below 5%, it is clear that immunotherapy is, in fact, propelling the treatment landscape forward.

However, only so much progress can be achieved until oncologists learn more about biomarker development. One major motivation for developing biomarkers, says Saenger, is the goal of understanding more about changes in a patient’s tumor and in the immune system, and how these factors are associated with benefit.

Saenger’s research focuses specifically on strategies that are applicable to standard clinical samples. In her lab, she and her colleagues analyze RNA gene expression by the immune cells in the tumor and in the blood of patients receiving immunotherapy. They also study immune surveillance, which can indicate how strong the immune system is at baseline before a patient begins their regimen of immunotherapy. Additionally, they look at multiplex immunohistochemistry to try to understand how the position and types of immune cells within the tumor affect clinical outcomes for the patient.

Saenger has proposed CD2 as a novel biomarker in melanoma and is currently funded to use NanoString technology, a methodology in which genomic information can be extracted from formalin fixed banked patient samples, to validate her 53-gene panel in a large population of patients from the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group E1697 study.


Yvonne Saenger, MD, director of Melanoma Immunotherapy at Columbia University Medical Center, discusses the importance of developing accurate biomarkers when it comes to administering immunotherapy.

Recent data related to anti-PD1 agents, which Saenger claims to currently be the most effective type of immunotherapy, demonstrated a 5-year survival rate of 35%. Given that these rates used to be below 5%, it is clear that immunotherapy is, in fact, propelling the treatment landscape forward.

However, only so much progress can be achieved until oncologists learn more about biomarker development. One major motivation for developing biomarkers, says Saenger, is the goal of understanding more about changes in a patient’s tumor and in the immune system, and how these factors are associated with benefit.

Saenger’s research focuses specifically on strategies that are applicable to standard clinical samples. In her lab, she and her colleagues analyze RNA gene expression by the immune cells in the tumor and in the blood of patients receiving immunotherapy. They also study immune surveillance, which can indicate how strong the immune system is at baseline before a patient begins their regimen of immunotherapy. Additionally, they look at multiplex immunohistochemistry to try to understand how the position and types of immune cells within the tumor affect clinical outcomes for the patient.

Saenger has proposed CD2 as a novel biomarker in melanoma and is currently funded to use NanoString technology, a methodology in which genomic information can be extracted from formalin fixed banked patient samples, to validate her 53-gene panel in a large population of patients from the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group E1697 study.



View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 12th Annual International Symposium on Melanoma and Other Cutaneous Malignancies®Apr 29, 20172.0
Clinical Vignette Series: 34th Annual Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium: Innovative Cancer Therapy for Tomorrow®Feb 28, 20182.0
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