Sebastian Amigorena

Sebastian Amigorena: “Immunotherapy is raising hopes”

As Institut Curie launches the first cancer immunotherapy center in France, its director, Sebastian Amigorena, talks to us about this fast-growing field. From basic research to clinical trials, the center’s goals are clear: to accelerate the availability of new immunotherapy strategies and to discover new ones.

What are the aims of the cancer immunotherapy center?

Immunotherapy is indisputably a new and valuable weapon in the fight against cancer. It is therefore vital to improve knowledge in this field in order to develop new medications, learn how to use them better, and combine them with other treatments for the benefit of patients.

The cancer immunotherapy center at Institut Curie will thus welcome more than 140 physicians and researchers, six clinical investigation stations and 10 extra beds for outpatient treatment. An entire floor within the hospital – a surface area of 1,400 sq.m – will be devoted to this center. Basic and translational research laboratories, consultation rooms and hospital beds will be in close proximity. This will enable discussion among all groups, including researchers, physicians, patients and caregivers.


What are the benefits of this type of center for patients?

This therapeutic strategy is raising great hopes in oncology. It is now possible to treat patients with very advanced cancer, so in patients with less advanced cancers the treatments should be even more effective.

Our commitments are therefore clear:

  • To implement early trials and study combinations of treatments that could improve therapeutic effectiveness.
  • To discover new predictive biomarkers for responses to treatment.
  • To understand why immunotherapy results for breast cancer remain modest, whereas they are more compelling for tumors in other locations.

In terms of basic and translational research, what fields do you think will dominate in the future?

A lot of research remains to be done to better understand immune responses to tumors, and to learn how to use the immune system to fight cancer. The teams at the immunity and cancer research laboratory (Inserm/Institut Curie) are exploring all types of immune response: innate immunity, the first to react to a viral or bacterial infection, and adaptive immunity, which takes longer to act but targets each “enemy,” and also the mechanisms at play in immune system cells. There are many approaches that can help improve immunotherapy strategies in the long term.

One of the projects dear to us is the development of cell engineering technologies. With this aim in mind, we have already formed a partnership with the Belgian/US company Celyad, a leader in cell therapy engineering, to develop a new generation of CAR (Chimeric Antigen Reactor) T-cells. This approach involves reprogramming the patient’s T lymphocytes by injecting a fragment of code, which synthesizes a chimeric receptor sensitive to the tumor antigen. The result is that the lymphocytes attack the cancer cells.

While traditional CAR technologies work only with liquid tumors, the one developed with Ceylad will use a different principle and have the ability to target both solid and liquid tumors.

By focusing the strengths and the players involved in this discipline on the same issue, we will achieve an enormous investigative potential to address basic clinical and pre-clinical issues.