Tumor Immunity and Cancer Immunotherapy
Despite the fact that tumors originate from normal cells, the immune system often reacts relatively strongly against tumoral components. However, because these tumors closely resemble the original transformed cells, the immune system tolerates most tumor types to a variable degree. Thus, the very nature of tumor immunity poses enormous challenges to the endeavour of harnessing the immune system for the therapy of cancers. The aims of the NCCR module on “Tumor immunity and immunotherapy” are:
- to identify suitable antigens in various tumor types that may be targeted for innovative therapies based on mobilizing the resources of the immune system against growing tumors
- to understand in great details the immune responses to tumors in cancer patients,
- to perform clinical trials of vaccination,
- to invent and/or refine laboratory methods that allow to measure the immune responses elicited by experimental cancer vaccines,
- to devise novel approaches for the treatment of tumors by combining established chemotherapy compounds currently used in the clinical oncology practice with our experimental cancer vaccines, with the aim of enhancing the anti-tumor effects of both therapeutic modalities
- and to develop more potent and innovative therapeutic vaccination approaches by exploiting the latest insights into the inner workings of the immune system.
The “tumor immunity and cancer immunotherapy” module is organized in six autonomous research projects led by independent scientists established at various institutes located in the Lausanne area (ISREC, Multidisciplinary Oncology Center, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Vaud –CHUV, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Faculty of Biology and Medicine, UNIL). A unique aspect of this module is the dense network of interactions between these research projects and, more importantly, the fluid exchanges between oncologists, clinicians at the Gyneco-obstetrics department, applied immunologists working at the interface between research laboratories and the clinics and basic scientists in pure research laboratories. Moreover, the network has contacts with several start-up companies, big pharma and laboratories both in Europe and the United States.
The outcomes of this research program have important implications for both our understanding of the immune system and for the conquest of cancer. Indeed, novel therapies based on exploiting signaling pathways and knowledge of the immune system physiology would be more specific and far less toxic than current chemo or radiotherapy which cannot discriminate transformed cells from normal proliferating cells and therefore carry a high burden of collateral effects for cancer patients.