The new CRIS Immuno-Oncology Unit, to be developed at Hospital 12 de Octubre, financed by CRIS Cancer, will focus on one of the most promising strategies to beat cancer: immunotherapy.
This Unit is the first integrated programme dedicated to preclinical and clinical research for cancer immunotherapy in Spain.
Reputed oncologists, haematologists, immunologists and molecular biologists will take part in the project. It will be a cross-sectional program, which will allow interactions that will drive the performance of studies in solid and haematological tumours, giving patients access to the studies and to the latest new immunotherapy treatments, and innovative diagnostic tools.
The integrated unit will comprise three branches:
- Immunotherapy in Lung Cancer and Solid Tumours: headed by Dr Luis Paz-Ares, Chief of Medical Oncology at Hospital 12 de Octubre, who will also lead the CRIS Immunotherapy Unit.
- Immuno -Haematology and Cellular Therapy: headed by Dr Joaquín Martínez, Chief of Haematology at Hospital 12 de Octubre.
- Immuno-Engineering for Immunotherapy: headed by Dr Luis Álvarez-Vallina, Chief of the Cancer Immunotherapy Unit (UNICA) at Hospital 12 de Octubre, and Chief of the Immunotherapy and Cellular Engineering laboratory at Aarhus University in Denmark.
The program features four main pillars:
- Immunotherapy in lung cancer and other solid tumours
- Immunotherapy in haematological tumours and cellular therapy; in particular, use of T-CAR and NK therapies
- New monoclonal antibodies and tissue engineering
- Immune resistance mechanisms and immuno-metabolism.
Dr. Luis Paz Ares highlights the following: “We must provide responses, not just in terms of patient assistance, but also coordinated and innovative research and training programs in immuno-oncology. It is our intention to be a reference not just in Spain, but at a European and global level for the best treatment of patients with different forms of immunotherapy and in the development of cutting-edge innovation programs”
Dr. Joaquín Martínez comments: “In our community there are no units dedicated to research in this field. Our centre has all the features necessary to set up a programme of this kind, given the research background of the oncology, immunology and haematology services, as well as our alliance with the CNIO. Furthermore, we will be able to improve the health of cancer patients in Spain, and develop a teaching programme that will improve medical training and drive patent generation”.
Dr. Luis Álvarez-Vallina explains: “The interaction of basic and specialised clinical groups in Medical Oncology, Haematology and Immunology, within a great University Hospital in Madrid such as ours, with extensive clinical and research experience, will enable multidisciplinary approaches and innovative solutions within the field of cell-based adoptive immunotherapy, and in the design of new molecular concepts to achieve a more effective redirection of the system, increasing therapeutic effectiveness and reducing the toxicity associated with these kinds of therapies
What is Immunotherapy?
During the past few years, the concept of how cancer develops has changed radically. Tumours have ceased to be considered isolated entities that grow independently of their environment, and it has instead been proved that tumour cells have a close relationship with their environment, which they communicate with and manipulate.
Amongst the different components of the tumour’s environment, the immune system has a fundamental role. Under normal conditions, our immune cells (“cell troops”) are capable of identifying and destroying effectively any tumour cells. However, sometimes tumours are capable of blocking, confusing or escaping the immune response against these altered cells.
During the past few years, it has been demonstrated that it is possible to manipulate certain switches of the immune system, to reactivate and/or redirect immune responses against the tumour. This allows not only to eliminate tumours, but to develop a lasting response and prevent future relapses. This therapeutic manipulation of the immune system is called immunotherapy, and its implementation in the fight against cancer has revolutionised how we understand and treat these pathologies.
These kinds of treatments are extremely accurate and advanced therapies, which are showing very promising results, both as stand-alone therapies or in combination with radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
The HUNET- CRIS Unit of University Hospital 12 de Octubre
This unit, headed by Dr. Joaquín Martínez, is CRIS’s flagship. The HUNET- CRIS Unit of University Hospital 12 de Octubre is integrated in this Hospital’s Haematology Service, focused on blood cancers; it is proof of the effectiveness of this approach, of the trend towards personalised medicine and of promoting the use of cell therapies. Since it was opened, more than 110 early stage clinical trials (stages I/II) have been performed, allowing the treatment of more than 800 persons with different onco-haematological illnesses (47 multiple myeloma, 26% lymphoma, 10% acute leukaemia, 7% chronic myeloid leukaemia, 6% myelofibrosis, etc), both in initial stages and in cases of advanced relapses, from the whole of Spain.