UMCG receives large EU grant for research on CAR-T immunotherapy by cancer

An international research network led by the UMCG has been awarded an EU grant of 2.6 million euros for research on CAR-T immunotherapy by cancer. Thanks to this immunotherapy, patients with lymphoma who have exhausted all their treatment options get a chance to recover.
scientists in laboratory working on CAR-T immunotherapy

Hope for out-treated patients  

CAR-T immunotherapy is a relatively new treatment which, for some years now, has been helping patients with lymphoma who have exhausted all treatment options to get better. In this treatment T-cells (a certain type of white blood cells) are extracted from the patient's blood. These cells, which play an important role in the body's defence against cancer cells, are genetically modified in a laboratory: a so-called CAR (Chimeric Antigen Receptor) is added to the T-cell. This CAR is an extra piece of DNA that ensures that the T-cell (that has become a CAR-T-cell after the treatment) recognises the cancer cells and attacks them. The patient's own immune system is thus trained to eliminate the cancer cells. 

CAR-T cell therapy is a revolutionary innovation in oncology', says research leader Prof. Edwin Bremer of the Haematology Department of the UMCG. It is effective in about half of the patients with diffuse large-cell B cell lymphoma, a form of lymph node cancer'. 

New generation CAR-T cells 

With the current grant, the UMCG together with universities and biotech companies will both optimise the production process of CAR-T cells for local production in the hospital and develop a new generation of CAR-T cells by developing new techniques. 'We will focus on the question why this treatment works in some patients and is not successful others and, based on this knowledge, develop a new generation of CAR-T cells that can be produced in the hospital using techniques we have developed', says research leader Prof. Edwin Bremer. 

Valuable time  

The production in the hospital pharmacy saves valuable time for the patient: previously, this was done in the United States. This took 4 to 6 weeks: time that out-of-treatment patients often do not have anymore. To produce this promising new cancer treatment in-house, the UMCG has received an earlier grant in 2020. More research and innovation is needed to improve this therapy, which is made possible by the awarded European subsidy. 

International research network  

The EU grant was awarded to the international research network "InnoCAR-T", which is led by the UMCG. Besides the UMCG, the network consists of three universities and two biotech companies: the University Hospital of Barcelona (Spain), the University of Ghent (Belgium), Scinus Cell Expansion (the Netherlands) and Integra Therapeutics (Spain). The grant comes from the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Doctorate Network (DN) programme, which gives early-stage researchers the opportunity to improve their research skills, collaborate with established research teams and enhance their own career prospects. The grant will enable the research network to recruit ten young researchers.