This September, the administration of the Wellcome Trust Infection, Immunology and Translation Medicine (IITM) programme hosted a new symposium; the IITM Perspectives Meeting. The symposium is open to students and staff from around Oxford and aims to provide insights into state-of-the-art research areas relevant to the IITM program. This year’s symposium highlighted the impressive developments in ‘biologics as therapeutics’.
The day was kicked off by Emeritus Prof. Herman Waldmann sharing his long career insights in developing one of the first monoclonal antibody treatments. Starting from studies, several decades ago, his monoclonal antibody CAMPATH-1 went through several phases of in vitro and in vivo testing to become a therapeutic for leukaemia, lymphoma and transplant rejection. This was not an easy journey, as Waldmann described during his talk, which included struggles with pharmaceutical companies and a resilient belief in his therapeutic.
After setting the historic scene, Dr. Mariagrazia Pizza who is currently working as senior scientific director for GlaxoSmithKline, presented more recent advancements in vaccinology. She talked about novel strategies to develop new adjuvants and therapeutic vaccines against bacterial infections such as Neisseria meningitidis. Following Dr. Pizza, the new director of the medical science division Prof. Gavin Screaton offered new insights into the cross-reactivity of the immune system to dengue and Zika infection. His research revealed new potential antibody targets to fight dengue and Zika virus infections.
The morning session was then closed by Dr. Shaun Cordoba, director of synthetic biology at Autolus Therapeutics, where he works to modify T cell responses using engineered T cell receptors on their surface. His research could provide new avenues to treat cancer more specifically and effectively.
The afternoon began with a panel discussion focussing on the requirements and funding opportunities for translational research approaches. Experts from venture capital firms, such as former Oxford student Bonnie van Wilgenburg, and major research funding agencies represented by Prof. Sara Marshall of the Wellcome Trust and Adam Baggs from the Medical Research Council discussed the (mostly) pros and (fewer) cons of translational research and the integration of academic and industry research.
Giving another aspect to the field of ‘biologics as therapeutics’, Dr. Kerry Fisher (CSO at PsiOxus Therapeutics) presented his astounding research on oncolytic viruses. He showed how working in a university setting may be profitable to companies.
The last session of the day was concluded by Dr. Ausra Razanskiene (Scientific Manager at Nomads) and Prof. Richard Pleass (Liverpool University) who presented their research on plant-expressed antimicrobials and antibody glycolysation, respectively. Dr. Razanskiene’s research may provide new large-scale methods to produce cost-effective antimicrobials to fight Pseudomonas, a common pulmonary opportunistic pathogen. In contrast, Prof. Pleass’ research found that the glycosylation of the N-terminal hinge region of antibodies is an important for their multimerization.
After some concluding remarks of the IITM program director Chris Tang, speakers and IITM students could further mingle during a delicious dinner at St. Edmund Hall. After a very successful day with about 100 attendees and great presentations and discussion, we are delighted to say this symposium will be a biennial event and return to Oxford in 2020. So, stay tuned for more cutting edge infection, immunology & translational medicine.
By Felix Richter