The development of strategies targeting immunosuppressive cells, molecules and pathways with less toxicity and with a more universal role in tumour progression is an unmet clinical need.
Possibilities to control the presence of suppressive cells within a tumour are key factors in opening new avenues to fight against cancer growth. This is highly important since efforts in re-activating immune responses against tumours solely by blocking T cell inhibitory molecules have not shown promise as a single therapy for the vast majority of patients.
Mechanisms regulating the macrophage phenotype in the tumour microenvironment have emerged as a highly potential field in drug development. Moreover, definitive biomarkers indicative of an immunotherapy treatment response, and feasible assessment of the immunological changes of the tumour microenvironment during and after treatment, are severely lacking.
Breaking tumour tolerance – a Clever solution
Our research exploits a unique scavenger receptor, Clever-1, which is expressed on a subpopulation of immunosuppressive macrophages, to alleviate tumour-related inflammation and develop Clever-1 as a companion therapeutic, diagnostic, and prognostic biomarker to treat and identify patients under immunosuppression.
This involves the use of in vivo tumour models and sophisticated immunological assays with cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art imaging combined with fresh human cancer patient material to elucidate the function of Clever-1 in controlling macrophage-mediated local and systemic immune responses.
Our results potentially have a high impact in understanding the mechanism of macrophage-mediated immunosuppression in cancer and promoting anti-Clever-1 immunotherapy into clinical trials where it may have benefits in comparison with currently available immune activating drugs.
Based at the University of Turku in Finland’s oldest city, Principal Investigator Dr Maija Hollmén also serves as Adjunct Professor of Tumour Immunology and an Academy Research Fellow at the MediCity Research Laboratory, Institute of Biomedicine. Having gained her own PhD degree at the University of Turku, followed by a Postdoctoral fellowship at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland, she now leads a team of experts unravelling the complexity of immune responses in cancer. Dr Hollmén works in close collaboration with clinicians from the University Hospitals in Finland and Faron Pharmaceuticals to increase the clinical relevance of basic biological findings and support their development from bench to bedside, respectively.