Oncology/Immunology constitutes a major research focus of the medical faculty (MFT) at Tübingen University. A quarter of all professorships at MFT are dedicated to Oncology/Immunology, which raise one third of all competitive third party research funding (>35 Mio/year) and publish more than 500 publications each year. Besides external research funding, MFT supports cancer research with more than €2.5 Million per year intramurally.
Oncology/Immunology research is coordinated by the Comprehensive Cancer Center Tübingen-Stuttgart (CCC-TS, one of Germany´s DKH funded Oncology Centers of Excellence) and comprises three translational research areas:
i) Immunotherapy: The internationally renowned Immunotherapy program at CCC-TS is a blueprint for successful translational cancer research, as over the past years its scientists were highly successful in bringing cancer immunotherapies into clinical trials. A Collaborative Research Center (CRC) on Immunotherapy (CRC 685 – Immunotherapy: Molecular Basis and Clinical Application) has been in place at the University of Tübingen for almost twelve years. The work of Tübingen's scientists on MHC biology has contributed significantly to the understanding of the peptide receptor nature of MHC molecules and has yielded tools for the prediction of HLA-presented peptides.
Tübingen scientists strongly advanced the field of translational immunology, especially the development of individualized cancer peptide and RNA vaccinations. This work resulted in various clinical trials and the foundation of several spin-off companies, such as Immatics Biotechnologies and CureVac GmbH with more than 300 employees, underscoring our successful approaches in cancer immunotherapy.
Principle Investigators in this research area are currently exploring combinatorial checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies with peptide vaccination, cell-based and novel antibody-based therapies. Regarded as exemplary for our activities regarding novel antibody formats and cell-based Immunotherapies, we recently initiated a clinical study evaluating a novel Fc-optimized FLT3 antibody (developed at CCC-TS) for elimination of minimal residual disease in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (together with Synimmune GmbH, a spin-off of the University of Tübingen).
ii) Functional & Molecular Imaging sciences at MFT and CCC-TS is particularly focusing on hybrid PET/MRI to combine molecular, functional and morphological information. Owing to its unique infrastructure of interdepartmental links, Tübingen´s imaging scientists are at the forefront regarding the development of novel PET tracers and functional MR imaging methods which are important to characterize and profile tumors.
A BMBF-funded research consortium named “e:MED: Systems Biology Supports Multiscale Analysis of Imaging, Omics and Clinical Data to Improve Diagnosis and Therapy of Hepatocellular Carcinomas” has been implemented and brings together imaging researchers, functional cancer geneticists and biologists as well as experts in systems biology in order to integrate data from omics, functional genomics and multiparametric molecular imaging for an improved diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer.
iii) Functional Genomics & Target Discovery researchers have made seminal contributions to the development of RNAi-based functional screening tools, in particular platforms involving direct in vivo shRNA screens, which allow scientists to dissect mechanisms of resistance towards molecular and immunotherapies and to identify novel therapeutic targets. Recently a novel therapy against liver cancer, which was identified through a functional shRNA-based genetic screen, was introduced into human subjects for the first time.
A DFG-funded Research Unit has been established which focuses on the functional interrogation of essential tumor biological processes and the identification of novel therapeutic targets therein (FOR 2314: Targeting therapeutic windows in essential cellular processes for tumor therapy). Intertwined research projects with scientists of the `Immunotherapy´research area have been initiated, aiming to conduct functional genetic screens in vivo to functionally characterize resistance/sensitivity towards novel immunotherapies.