MAB 3/2016


International Centre for Cancer Vaccine Science

Financial support:

41 109 030,00 PLN

Project location:

The University of Gdańsk

Foreign strategic partner:

The University of Edinburgh

Field of research:

Molecular genetics, immunology, clinical biochemistry

Project aim:

Comprehensive research into immunotherapies that could lead to the creation of personalized therapeutic cancer vaccines, followed by their commercialization and implementation into clinical practice.


professor Theodore Hupp and professor Robin Fahraeus

(From June 1st, 2021 prof. Hupp resigned from his position of ICCVS director and the group leader and from August 1st, 2021 prof. Fahraeus resigned from his position of the group leader of ICCVS)

International Centre for Cancer Vaccine Science

Although still in its infancy, immunotherapy in cancer treatment has already been hailed as the next revolution in medicine. It seems to be for oncology what antibiotics and preventive vaccination have been for the treatment of infectious diseases. Thanks to those scientific advances, we saw the back of many, previously lethal, diseases. Will the same happen to cancer thanks to immunotherapy and to the widespread use of personalized therapeutic cancer vaccines?

Large-scale comprehensive research into such immunotherapies, followed by their commercialization and implementation into clinical practice, will be the purpose of a new scientific facility which is currently being built in Gdańsk ? the International Centre for Cancer Vaccine Science. The centre has been established by experienced researchers: Theodore Hupp from the UK and Robin Fahraeus from France ? selected in the second competition under the International Research Agendas (MAB) programme implemented by the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP), using funds from the Smart Growth Operational Program. PLN 41 million in funding for the project has been secured. The new facility will be based at the University of Gdańsk and will be created in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.

The fundamental idea behind oncological immunotherapy is straightforward ? the goal is to kick-start cancer patients? immune system to fight the neoplasm. Cancer cells are generated in the human body every single day. The transformation of a healthy cell into a cancer cell is triggered by DNA defects. Mutations are enabled by inflammation, infection, solar irradiance, tobacco smoke, environmental pollution or free radicals, which find their way into the body along with food. The immune system is generally able to quickly recognize a mutated cell and to eliminate it. However, sometimes the immune system lets certain hazardous agents slip by, permitting the rogue cell to proliferate. The growing cancer structure applies a range of strategies to stay off the immune system?s radar. Cancer cells escaping the immune supervision are one of the most important mechanisms which enable cancer to progress. Restoring control offers a great opportunity to defeat cancer. Hence, the prestigious Science journal, as well as the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recognized cancer immunotherapies as the greatest breakthrough in recent years, not only in medicine, but also in science as a whole. ASCO experts also believe that immunotherapy is set to replace other cancer therapies quite soon and that one in every two cancer patients will undergo immunotherapy as soon as in 2020. It seems that immunotherapies might make it possible to fully cure even advanced-stage cancers, as well as metastasized and chemotherapy-resistant neoplasms.

Cancer immunotherapy can currently be divided into specific and non-specific therapies. Non-specific therapies activate the immune system to fight a particular type of cancer, working in an identical way for all patients suffering from the same type of cancer. This is the operating principle of immune checkpoint inhibitors (such as ipilimumab, pembrolizumab and nivolumab), which have already been shown to be effective in the treatment of melanoma and lung cancer. A number of trials are underway to evaluate the efficacy of the drugs in the treatment of kidney, colon, prostate, breast, head and neck cancers, as well as other tumours.

Specific immunotherapy, on the other hand, rallies the immune system to fight a particular cancer detected in a specific patient. The most dynamically developing area of specific immunotherapy are customized therapeutic cancer vaccines (contrary to infectious disease immunization, these are not preventive vaccines inhibiting the development of a disease, but are rather used to actively treat existing patients). Each vaccine is prepared individually for a concrete patient on the basis of specific neo-antigens, i.e. proteins, which occur only and exclusively in that particular growing tumour, depending on a unique combination of genetic mutations carried by the cancer cells present in a specific patient. Latest advances in genetics and molecular biology (such as sequencing) are used to identify neo-antigens, coupled with bioinformatic algorithms and computer modelling. A customized vaccine designed and produced to fight neo-antigens identified at the lab, once introduced into the patient?s body, recognizes the neo-antigens and triggers a powerful cascade of natural defence mechanisms geared towards fighting the neoplasm. Importantly, preliminary research suggests that a vaccine therapy aligned with the genetic properties of the cancer does not cause any important adverse reactions. This is because the vaccines are precisely targeted to act in the neoplastic focus, without damaging any of the neighbouring tissues or organs.

?These exciting advances have shown that immunotherapy drugs can become precise personalized medicines with a broad range of applications in the treatment of various types of cancer. At the University of Gdańsk, we plan to build an interdisciplinary centre specializing in cancer vaccine research. We intend to recruit, inspire and teach the next generation of researchers and medical doctors who wish to work with increasingly better oncological therapies. We would like to involve leading international advisors in our research, including both partners from the University of Edinburgh and from Polish research institutions,? says Professor Theodore Hupp, director of the new centre. The overarching idea is to develop innovative targets and control points for immunotherapy based on neoantigens. In collaboration with the industry, these will be used to design vaccines to be used in clinical practice.

Project creators:

The founders of the ICCVS were initially Prof. Theodore Hupp and Prof. Robin Fahraeus. From June 1st, 2021, Prof. Hupp stepped down as the ICCVS director and group leader, while Prof. Fahraeus resigned from his position of group leader within the ICCVS from August 1st, 2021.


From 01.06.2021 prof. Natalia Marek-Trzonkowska is Acting Director of ICCVS. She leads the Cancer Immunology Group. Her research concerns clinical applications of cells of the immune system. Currently, she has been working on T cell based therapy for non-small cell lung cancer. She did her postdoctoral training at the University of Chicago, where she worked on pancreatic islet transplantation and conducted research on new methods for induction of immune tolerance. Awarded by numerous national and international boards, e.g. two Scientific Awards for research on the clinical application of regulatory T cells awarded by the European Federation of Immunological Societies (EFIS; Vienna and Glasgow), Polish-American Medical Society Award (PAMS; Chicago) and the Young Investigator Award granted by the International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes (Istanbul), two scientific prizes awarded by the International Pancreas and Islet Transplant Association (IPITA; Praga) and Scholarship of the Minister of Science and Higher Education for Outstanding Young Scientists.