Cancer is one of the leading health problems. Once classical therapies (chemotherapy, radiation
therapy, surgery) have failed. Other effective therapies are rarely available. Even though
comparatively rare, viral diseases and virus-associated cancers are also difficult to treat in
immune-deficient patients. Therefore, there is strong interest in utilizing the immune system to
fight cancer and infections.
Recently, a few studies have paved the way for successful immunotherapy. The adoptive transfer
of virus-specific T cells reconstituted viral immunity in the majority of patients and, despite
major side effects, allogeneic T cells transferred in the course of bone marrow stem cell
transplantation had strong anti-leukaemia activity.
However, since adoptive T cell therapy is difficult to perform and laborious, it is the least
investigated form of immunotherapy, in comparison to antibody- or vaccine-based therapies. New
technologies to more easily generate antigen-specific T cells, the availability of a wide range
of potential target antigens and better knowledge of immune-regulation and tolerance mechanisms
justify an in depth analysis of adoptive T cell therapy. Therefore, this initiative concentrates
on adoptive T cell therapy of viral disease and cancer.
For this purpose, scientists from Berlin and Munich were identified for their expertise in the
areas of basic and clinical immunology, molecular biology, virology and performance of innovative
clinical trials. This nationally unique endeavour will develop experimental systems to generate
highly effective T cells against a broad array of target antigens. In parallel, the group will
define the conditions that allow the best performance of the transfused T cells in terms of survival,
migration and efficacy in experimental cancer models and through clinical trials in patients. The
long-term goal is the availability of "of-the-shelf" reagents to construct sufficient numbers of
human T cells with any desired specificity within a week for clinical use. These T cells will be
transferred into patients, who are pre-conditioned to have a T cell "friendly" environment, and
who are endangered with life-threatening viral diseases or suffer from diverse forms of cancer,
including several solid tumors.