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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Personalised Immuno-Oncology

As new cases of cancer worldwide are set to increase by 70% over the next two decades, the race to find effective treatments has become more important than ever (1). Recent research has given novel insights into how the immune system fights cancer and how malignant tumours evade recognition through immuno-suppression (2,3). This has led to the development of new immunotherapies that work by activating the body’s own natural immune defences, helping it to fight various cancers.

Immunotherapies typically fall into two main categories: active and passive. Active immunotherapies involve destroying cancer cells by strengthening natural immune defenses, often using a therapeutic cancer vaccine (4). One approach to cancer vaccination has been to extract tumour-associated antigens (TAAs) and inject them back into the patient in a suitable delivery vector, thus triggering the stimulation of the immune system to recognise and destroy the cancerous cells. Costimulatory adjuvants or immune modulators are also injected along with the vaccine in order to counteract the immuno-suppressive environment induced by the tumour, enabling a strong and sustained immune response (5).

Passive immunotherapies do not directly weaponise the immune system, but instead aim to reduce or overcome the immunosuppressive effects of the tumour. Their primary goal is to reinstall the ability of the patients’ immune system to fight the disease. Many tumours secrete or carry proteins on their cell surface that can inhibit components of the immune system’s weaponry – like cytotoxic T cells for example. As such, this type of immunotherapy either blocks the silencer proteins expressed by the tumour cells, or targets their corresponding docking sites on the cytotoxic T cells, so that the two can no longer interact to suppress T cell activity (6). This is typically achieved by developing specific monoclonal antibodies that will bind to these factors. Checkpoint inhibitors are a well-known class of drugs that carry out this blocking function, side-stepping a key defensive tactic used by many tumours and enabling the patient’s immune system to attack and destroy the cancerous cells (7).


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Dr Peter Schulz-Knappe joined Protagen in 2010 as Chief Scientific Officer (CSO). He trained as a Medical Doctor before working as a Cell Biologist and brings over 25 years of protein and peptide biochemistry experience, coupled with biomarker discovery and development expertise. Peter has more than 15 years of management experience in R&D and served as both Chief Executive Officer and CSO at BioVisioN and as CSO at Proteome Sciences. He has published over 100 papers and is named as inventor on more than 70 patents including peptides, biomarkers and analytical procedures.

Dr Georg Lautscham is Chief Business Officer at Protagen, having joined in 2013. A Chemist and Immunologist by training, he also has over 15 years of experience as a biotechnology executive, with a strong commercial track record in business development, marketing and sales. Georg has led a number of interdisciplinary teams in Germany, the UK and the US, operating within the fields of immunology, oncology, clinical research, regulatory affairs and bioinformatics.
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Dr Peter Schulz-Knappe
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Dr Georg Lautscham
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