TAMEST Profile: Maksim Mamonkin, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine, TAMEST Protégé Poster Challenge Winner

Carlos Roberto Jaén, M.D., Ph.D.

TAMEST 2023 Protégé Poster Challenge Winner Maksim Mamonkin, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine, first came to Texas in 2007 from Russia as a graduate student studying immunology. From graduate school, Dr. Mamonkin did his postdoctoral studies with TAMEST Member Malcolm K. Brenner, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Baylor College of Medicine, where he utilized his immune system knowledge to develop cellular therapies for difficult-to-treat cancers.

Now, he is an Associate Professor of Pathology and Immunology at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is known for bringing his creative thinking and deep immunology skills to the field of cell therapy. Though not natively Texan, Dr. Mamonkin says he continues to stay here thanks to its thriving academic ecosystem, which is perfect for conducting world-class research.

This May, Dr. Mamonkin was one of 39 TAMEST Protégés to participate in the annual TAMEST Protégé Poster Challenge, where Dr. Mamonkin and two others were selected as finalists and asked to present their research on the conference stage. The finalists also received a private breakfast with The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison and Breakthrough Prize Winner and TAMEST Member Huda Y. Zoghbi, M.D. (NAM, NAS), Baylor College of Medicine.

After the five-minute research presentation on his poster, entitled, Developing CAR-T Therapies for Patients with T-Cell Leukemia and Lymphoma, Dr. Mamonkin took home first prize. He won an H-E-B gift certificate and complimentary ticket to attend the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, February 5–7, 2024, at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center in Austin, Texas.

TAMEST connected with Dr. Mamonkin to learn more about his ground-breaking cancer research and decision to participate in TAMEST’s protégé program.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your work.  

I’ve been at Baylor College of Medicine since 2007 when I joined as a graduate student in the Immunology program. I then did postdoctoral studies in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy with Dr. Malcolm K. Brenner (who is a TAMEST Member).

It has been an amazing journey from where I first learned how the immune system works and then utilized this knowledge to develop cellular therapies for difficult-to-treat cancers.

I have the privilege to work with the most talented and driven scientists and clinicians I’ve ever known to translate our findings to the bedside and conduct academic clinical trials in patients with recurrent blood cancers who currently have few, if any, treatment options on the table.  

How did you first hear about TAMEST and its Protégé Program?

I was introduced to TAMEST by Drs. Malcolm Brenner and Helen Heslop (who is the Director of the BCM Center for Cell and Gene Therapy) and attended a previous meeting in Dallas in 2020 as a protégé.

I really liked the format of the meeting and enjoyed the talks so the decision to attend the meeting in Houston was a no-brainer.

What made you decide to participate in our poster challenge? 

I was looking forward to meeting other TAMEST protégés and learning about their science.

I also wanted to highlight our work at Baylor and find new connections, both among the protégés and TAMEST members.

Your poster was entitled, Developing CAR-T Therapies for Patients with T-Cell Leukemia and Lymphoma. Tell us about your findings. 

We create new therapies for patients with blood cancers that do not respond to standard chemotherapy. For that, we take their blood and expand in the laboratory a special type of cell, called T-cells. We then modify these cells with an artificial gene (chimeric antigen receptor or CAR for short) that makes them recognize and kill tumor cells when infused back to the patient.

These CAR-T therapies have been very effective in patients with B-cell cancers but extending them to other cancers has been quite challenging. We have developed two approaches targeting proteins called CD5 and CD7 which are abundantly present in T-cell leukemia and lymphoma.

We initiated Phase I clinical trials at Houston Methodist Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital that showed that these therapies can clear cancer that otherwise does not respond to any other treatment. We are now expanding these therapies to multi-center trials in the United States and Europe hoping to make them available to more patients with these terrible diseases. The CD5 CAR T-cell technology has now been licensed to a Houston-based startup, March Biosciences, that gears up to open multi-center Phase 2 trials in Texas and beyond.

As a finalist, you were able to present your research on our conference stage. What was that experience like? 

It was great.

We had to put together slides the night before the talk and compress them down to 5 minutes, but I really enjoyed other finalists’ talks and the discussion during and after our session.

Talk about the research connections, if any, you were able to make while participating in the poster challenge. 

It was a fantastic meeting with the best minds in Texas. I learned so much about great initiatives and innovations in energy transition, resilient engineering, and biomedical research in the state. It felt great to be a part of this community.

Unfortunately, we did not have too much time to visit other posters, but I really enjoyed listening to the other finalists’ talks and the discussions I got to have with them.

Many former TAMEST protégés have gone on to National Academy election. Did participating in this program help make that goal seem more attainable?

The road to the National Academy is quite long and winding. It’s a great goal to have though, and I would feel honored if my work attained that level of achievement.

Would you recommend this program to colleagues? 

Of course. The Protégé program is a great idea!

Why do you live and work in Texas? 

I came to Houston, Texas in 2007 and never left. We have everything to conduct world-class research here – fantastic schools, hospitals, facilities, people. We enjoy state support through the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), and it is great to see the biotech community rapidly evolving, too.


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