T-lymphocytes are the most important immune cells in our defense against malignant tumors. These cells are the ultimate effector cells are equipped to kill cancer cells. Once the cancer is established, these T-cells are under strong inhibition by the tumor-microenvironment that forms the cancer. Currently, novel ways to re-activate these T cells, using so-called immune checkpoint inhibitors, medicines that take away induced brakes from these T cells, have revolutionized cancer treatment. However, despite these great advances in the field, many patients do not or only temporarily respond to these drugs. Other means of activating these T cells, is by isolating them out of a malignant tumor, and reactivating and expanding these T cells under GMP conditions, leading to an Advanced Therapy Medicinal Product (ATMP), so-called tumor infiltrating lymphocytes or TIL, which can be infused to the patients. Development of these living drugs has become the main focus within my research group. Apart from TIL that are derived from a metastatic tumor, we also work on blood derived T cells that we genetically engineer to recognize the tumor.
Using very sophisticated techniques, we are working on manufacturing personalized cell therapies that are highly efficacious and only induce very limited toxicities.