News from the Front Lines

John Kemshead, Ph.D., FRCPath

Head of Cell Therapy at Shire Pharmaceuticals


John is a founding member of the Forbeck Foundation and has lead the way as the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board for many years, selecting cutting edge research topics to further study at the meetings.

Tell us about your history with the Forbeck Foundation

I was indirectly involved in the treatment of Billy Forbeck (the Foundation’s namesake who died from neuroblastoma at age 11). Subsequently, I attended the first Forbeck Cancer Forum on Neuroblastoma and I was impressed with the novel approach they were proposing to try and drive to a cure for the disease. I am the longest-serving member of the Scientific Advisory Board, which I have run for the Foundation for several years. I think it is a major achievement that a relatively small foundation has accomplished so much over the years, and continues to perform well above what could be expected from their size.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in the world of cancer research right now?

Probably, our increased understanding of our immune system and how this can be adapted to treat the disease. This, along with our ability to genetically engineer cells to make them do “what we want” offers tremendous hope for the treatment of some cancers in the future.

Why is this important and what implications does it have?

Using the immune system to treat cancer goes against the use of conventional chemotherapy where the immune system is destroyed as a side effect of treatment. That is not to say that we can avoid the use of conventional chemotherapy today, but if we can get the immunological based therapies really working in a variety of cancers the balance of the use of the agents could change.

What do you think most people get wrong about cancer?

Thinking that cancer is one disease that is incurable. Each cancer type is different and carries with it different risk profiles as well as treatments. Realistically, it is true that some cancers remain very difficult to treat, but others can be considered as curable if they are caught early enough.

Are there any other promising trends in the cancer research field that we should know about?

There is an increasing understanding that even within a cancer type, there are considerable variations in the way the cells behave and respond to therapy. In addition, one person affected by the disease is inherently different from another. The idea that treatment can be personalized to the individual, can enhance responses as well as reduce the unwanted side effects of therapy. This will become increasingly important in the future as we improve our treatments to a variety of disease types.

Where should we be focusing most of our time and effort in getting closer to a cure?

My response is focussed on the Foundation as head of their Scientific Advisory Board. We should continue to do more of what we do. The best and fastest way to make progress in the treatment of cancer is to create a forum for the exchange of ideas between people trained in related but different disciplines. We have a great track record but we are not complacent; we want to do more if our funding base permits.