With the California Institute for Immunology and Immunotherapy at UCLA as an anchor tenant at the UCLA Research Park on the site of the former Westside Pavilion shopping mall, UCLA is poised to enter a new era of biomedical breakthroughs.
A first-of-its kind effort in California, the nonprofit public-private partnership will leverage UCLA’s existing strengths in clinical and biomedical scientific research across a range of disciplines. Top-flight scientists from UCLA and around the world will pursue new tools, treatments and vaccines to address a variety of pressing health challenges, including cancer, infectious diseases, allergies, autoimmune disorders, heart conditions, immune factors associated with organ transplantation and more.
The goal, said Dr. John Mazziotta, vice chancellor for health sciences and CEO of UCLA Health, is “to build the immunology equivalent of Silicon Valley in Los Angeles.”
What are immunology and immunotherapy?
Key areas of biomedical research at UCLA, the related fields of immunology and immunotherapy seek to understand and strengthen the human immune system. Research in these fields has resulted in a range of lifesaving applications, from HIV therapies and messenger RNA vaccines to monoclonal antibody–based and gene-based treatments for cancer and other disorders.
These types of therapies use substances produced by the body or in a laboratory to boost, maintain or suppress the body’s natural immune defense system — enabling it, for example, to better locate and attack cancer cells, or prompting it to produce antibodies that protect healthy cells against disease.
At UCLA, scientists working in immunology and immunotherapy have pioneered a variety of pivotal treatments over the years, from the breast cancer drug Herceptin in the 1990s to more recent approaches to “bubble baby” disease. Campus researchers continue to work to improve cancer treatments — for instance, by combining immunotherapy and chemotherapy and crafting therapies to extend the lives for people with deadly skin cancer — and to make significant advances in other areas, including immunotherapy for HIV and COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, UCLA experts are determining why some patients are resistant to immunotherapies or experience unwanted reactions and are learning how to minimize negative side effects.
Building the future of biomedical research
In addition to creating a thriving interdisciplinary, investigator-centered ecosystem for biomedical discoveries at the new UCLA Research Park, the center will support the development of startups and offer cutting-edge training to UCLA students and postdoctoral researchers in immunology and immunotherapy, helping to build the future workforce in these fields, generate regional and statewide economic benefits, and expand the reach of UCLA’s expertise throughout the community and the world.