Liverpool invests in immunology cancer research

The University of Liverpool and local NHS partners are investing in a major new programme of immunology cancer research to help translate new discoveries into novel treatments for patients as quickly as possible.

World-leading experimental cancer researcher Professor Christian Ottensmeier has been appointed to lead a team of interdisciplinary researchers, focusing initially on immuno-oncology in head and neck and lung cancer, as part of a strategic investment to drive forward cutting-edge patient relevant research in the region.

Professor Ottensmeier has taken up the role of Chair of Immuno-Oncology at the University of Liverpool and consultant oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust, following 25 years at the University of Southampton.

The overarching aim of his group’s research is the preclinical development and early phase clinical testing of strategies to induce anti-tumour immune responses in patients.

Professor Ottensmeier, who will be based at the Liverpool Head and Neck Centre, said: “I am delighted to be part of this exciting development, which will allow me to levy my laboratory and translational science to help improve treatments for cancer patients in Liverpool, Merseyside and Cheshire. It is fantastic to join strong collaborative teams who have patient benefit at the heart of their agenda.”

NHS collaboration

Supported by a strategic funding award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Professor Ottensmeier is collaborating on new studies with NHS colleagues who treat patients with head and neck cancer and lung cancer. This research will use tissue samples from surgical patients to test whether exposure to different viruses affects how the patients’ immune system can recognise and attack cancer cells.

“We predict that these studies will help us to understand why some patients’ cancer can be treated successfully, for example with immunotherapy, and why some patients have cancer that progresses quickly without benefit from the best treatments available today,” added Professor Ottensmeier.

Professor Terry Jones, Director of the Liverpool Head and Neck Centre, said: “Liverpool Head and Neck Centre is the UK`s largest integrated NHS / university collaboration for research and treatment of patients with disease of the head and neck; >750 cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed and treated in Liverpool every year. The appointment of Professor Ottensmeier and his team facilitates a step-change in mucosal and head and neck tumour immunology research which will result directly in better treatments for our patients.”

Jane Tomkinson OBE, Chief Executive of Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We welcome this significant investment and look forward to working closely with Professor Ottensmeier and the new immunology cancer research programme.

“As one of the largest and busiest lung surgical units in the country, we know that lung cancer research is pivotal in helping to develop safe and effective methods to prevent, detect, diagnose and care for patients. The more we understand about this disease, the greater the progress we will make in improving outcomes for patients with lung cancer.”

Addressing health inequalities

Cancer incidence and cancer-related mortality are major problems in England’s North West. Liverpool has been identified by Public Health England as one of the three most cancer-stricken cities in England, while cancer mortality in Merseyside and Cheshire is 76% higher than the European average.

Professor Louise Kenny, Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool, said: “The University of Liverpool is a civic University and we owe it to our local community to address their unmet health needs and help tackle these stark inequalities in cancer rates and survival. The appointment of Professor Ottensmeier and the strategic investment into collaborative immunology cancer research marks the start of an important new phase for biomedical cancer research in Liverpool that responds both to our civic responsibility to the city region and our wider responsibility to the global community.”

Patient relevant research

The recent opening of Clatterbridge Cancer Centre – Liverpool, which brings together cancer experts from the NHS and the University on the same site in the city’s Knowledge Quarter, has significantly enhanced the opportunity for collaborative leading-edge cancer research, including early-phase clinical trials of new treatments.

Dr Liz Bishop, Chief Executive of The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Immuno-oncology is one of the most promising and exciting fields of cancer research, particularly for those patients whose disease does not respond well to existing treatments. Professor Ottensmeier will be leading global trials of new cancer treatments in our new hospital in Liverpool and we are delighted that the people of Cheshire and Merseyside will be among the first to benefit from these highly innovative immunotherapies, which mark a paradigm shift in anti-cancer therapy by helping patients’ immune systems to fight their cancer. His appointment to the region is extremely welcome.”

International collaboration

Professor Ottensmeier’s long-time collaborator Dr Vijay Pandurangan, who is primarily based at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology in California, USA, is also joining the new Liverpool team. A recent study by the group was the first to explain how CD4+ T cells respond to the novel coronavirus. The findings, published in the leading journal Cell, could help scientists understand why Covid-19 can be so mild in some but deadly in other patients.

Building on this strong partnership, a Memorandum of Understanding between Liverpool and La Jolla has been signed that will form the basis for future strategic research and educational opportunities between the institutions.

Liverpool Cancer Research Institute

The appointments are part of a move towards a more integrated approach to fulfil the region’s true potential for biomedical and clinical cancer research, which also includes the establishment of the new Liverpool Cancer Research Institute (LCRI).

Professor Andrew Pettitt, Director of the LCRI and the Liverpool Health Partners Cancer Programme, said: “Professor Ottensmeier’s appointment in Liverpool is a hugely significant development which brings a step-change in our local research capability that can be applied to several different types of cancer including those which are particularly common in the region. It also provides evidence that Liverpool has become an attractive destination for world-leading cancer researchers thanks to the joined up, inclusive and collaborative approach that underpins the Liverpool Cancer Research Institute and Liverpool Health Partners cancer programme.”

Main image: Professor Christian Ottensmeier. Credit: University of Southampton.