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Autoimmunity and Cancer Immunotherapy

Can we predict and prevent autoimmune disease?

Why This Research

Checkpoint inhibitors changed the face of cancer by extending the lives of countless patients who had few choices. Yet some patients treated with this immunotherapy go on to develop autoimmune disorders that cause rashes, diarrhea, or in rare cases, insulin-dependent diabetes.

To understand why this happens, PICI launched a unique set of research projects across the country with leading nonprofits and university partners. The studies will focus on autoimmune diseases of the endocrine system such as insulin-dependent diabetes, thyroiditis and hypophysitis, which affects the pituitary gland.

What We’re Doing

Following checkpoint inhibitor treatment for cancer, roughly 1% will develop an insulin-dependent diabetes similar to type 1 diabetes. Nobody knows how or why.

To uncover the causes behind this phenomenon, PICI teamed up with two leaders in diabetes research: JDRF and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The three groups are co-funding nearly $10 million in autoimmunity research to better understand, predict and prevent insulin-dependent diabetes from occurring after cancer treatment with checkpoint inhibitors.

The groups also hope this collaborative research will shed light on what causes type 1 diabetes in otherwise healthy adults and kids.

For more information, see the press release announcing our partnership with JDRF and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

In addition to diabetes, PICI is also studying other autoimmune conditions, including thyroiditis, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), hypophysitis (a disease that affects the pituitary gland) and others following checkpoint inhibition treatment. We launched our AEROSMITH study (Autoimmune Events Resulting frOm Systemic Modulation by Immuno-THerapy) to collect and analyze clinical data and blood samples from patients during treatment to help us find answers about autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Through partnerships with the National Cancer Care Alliance and Precision Cancer Research, PICI is collecting clinical data and blood samples from patients during their cancer treatment with immunotherapy. We then monitor their immune response if they experience autoimmune symptoms.

Since AEROSMITH launched in March 2019, more than 50 community oncology practices have joined the consortium, and we have collected and processed blood samples from almost 600 patients toward our goal of 1,600. Once we have a sufficient number of samples, our investigators will start to unearth insights about why and how autoimmunity occurs so that immunotherapy can be used to treat more cancer patients more effectively.


Meet the scientists and clinicians leading the charge:


  • Mark Anderson, MD, PhD | University of California, San Francisco
  • Jane Buckner, MD | Benaroya Research Institute
  • Kevan Herold, MD | Yale School of Medicine
  • Osama Rahma, MD | Dana-Farber Cancer Institute


  • JDRF
  • The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
  • National Cancer Care Alliance
  • Precision Cancer Research