Immunotherapy gets personal: weaponizing a patient’s own T cells against cancer.

The therapeutic utilization of T cells in the fight against cancer has recently had a new breakthrough: adoptive T cell therapy (ACT). ACT involves collecting a patient’s own T cells, transforming them in the laboratory to target cancer, and then reintroducing back into the patient to fight cancer. This rapidly emerging therapeutic approach has exploded in recent years; there are an estimated 753 different cell therapies currently in development, of which 375 are in clinical trials worldwide. However, the production of such immunotherapy products lacks harmonization with clinical studies.

The EU-funded T-OP project brings together European pharmaceutical companies and research institutions, including Amsterdam UMC, throughout Europe to bridge this gap. The aim is to tackle a core research topic: the influence of cytokines on the therapeutic outcome of ACT products. These signaling proteins are at the heart of the generation of adoptive T cells, guiding their growth and differentiation. They also influence the safety and effectiveness of the final therapeutic product in ways that are not yet clear.

The T-OP project will bring together interdisciplinary teams, as well as experts in cell therapy, immunology, protein engineering and bioinformatics from Munich, Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen, Manchester, Amsterdam, Basel, and Jerusalem. T-OP will also train 15 early-stage (PhD) researchers, enabling them to develop efficient therapeutic solutions and to explore economic opportunities. The project's results are expected to lead to the development of safer and improved immunotherapeutics.

Researchers involved

Amsterdam UMC researchers Tanja de Gruijl and Hans van der Vliet are participants; their contribution will be to optimize culture and expansion protocols for so-called MAIT cells (mucosal associated invariant T cells).