Tanja de Gruijl heads the Immunotherapy Lab at the Cancer Center of the Amsterdam University medical centers, where she has been appointed Professor of Translational Tumor Immunology. She has over 25 years of experience in the field and her research ranges from preclinical topics to immune monitoring of Phase I-III clinical trials. Her main line of research is the in vivo targeting and modulation of dendritic cells (DC) in tumor-draining lymph nodes and the tumor microenvironment. Work from her lab showed that local CpG-mediated activation of DC residing in the sentinel lymph node, could overcome tumor-induced immune suppression and boost systemic antitumor immunity, resulting in significantly prolonged recurrence-free survival of patients with early-stage melanoma. Based on this work, her team has recently initiated a larger randomized trial to study the effects of local delivery of CpG on the sentinel lymph node status and recurrence-free survival in patients with Stage-2 (pT3-4 cN0M0) melanoma (the IntrIM trial). Her research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Royal Dutch Cancer Society (KWF), and she is a recipient of a competitive research award of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. She is a member of the Grant Review committee of the Melanoma Research Alliance, a member of the scientific council of the Dutch Cancer Society, and is co-chair of the International Education subcommittee of the SITC Global Access and Impact Committee.
SITC Election Platform Statement
What are the two or three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy?
There are of course numerous critical issues facing our field that need to be solved to allow immunotherapy of cancer to reach its full clinical potential: overcoming primary and secondary resistance, establishing efficacious combination therapies for various indications, curtailing the high costs associated with current immunotherapies, and identifying biomarkers for effective patient stratification, to name but a few. Here, I’d like to single out two that are close to my heart.There are of course numerous critical issues facing our field that need to be solved to allow immunotherapy of cancer to reach its full clinical potential: overcoming primary and secondary resistance, establishing efficacious combination therapies for various indications, curtailing the high costs associated with current immunotherapies, and identifying biomarkers for effective patient stratification, to name but a few. Here, I’d like to single out two that are close to my heart.
- How can we leverage the neo-antigen repertoire of solid tumors in an efficient, agnostic fashion? In other words, how can we achieve effective in vivo vaccination in support of e.g. immune checkpoint blockade. Local ablation techniques or oncolytic viruses can release tumor-derived (neo-)antigens in an immunogenic context, and may be combined with local immune modulation of the tumor microenvironment to overcome immune suppressive hurdles and so provide the basic requirements for the priming or boosting of a systemic adaptive immune response. These approaches require an in-depth knowledge of the immune landscape of various cancers as well as their draining lymph nodes, and the molecular mechanisms underlying established immune suppressive pathways. With new tools and techniques to visualize and deconstruct the tumor microenvironment in all its complexity,we are well on our way to achieve just this.
- How can we apply immunotherapy in earlier stages of cancer to maximize its efficacy and achieve secondary prevention against later recurrences? It stands to reason that by treating tumors early in their development, and consequently in earlier stages of immuno-editing, they may be more effectively controlled due to lower heterogeneity and less well established immune escape mechanisms. By targeting the primary tumor site and the tumor-draining lymph nodes early on, local delivery of lower doses of immunotherapeutic agents may achieve effective systemic immunity and so eliminate (dormant) micro-metastases. This could obviate the need for systemic treatment in later stages -and the detrimental side effects and high costs that come with it.
What is your vision for SITC?
SITC should be a truly global and lead advocate for cancer immunotherapy, promoting research, knowledge and expertise on the subject, as well as its implementation and accessibility. It should also foster young talent and provide a platform for young investigators from all over the world to connect and establish a position for themselves in the field. As long as I’ve been part of SITC and have been attending its meetings, I have really appreciated the open and relaxed atmosphere and the easy way in which colleagues in the field (from students to professors) connected with each other, during the scientific sessions as well as at the bar or on the dance floor, grooving along with the Checkpoints. Although with the expansion of the field, also the crowds at the annual meeting have grown, it is my sincere wish that we can maintain that feeling of being a close-knit community with a common goal. I hope in years to come PhD students will still walk up to me, the morning after the party, and tell me “Guess where we ended up last night?”, and that I will answer with a wry smile “…in the presidential suite?”.