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Checkpoint Blockade: a BSI Tumour Immunology Group conference

The British Society for Immunology’s Tumour Immunology Group is a UK-wide group that aims to create a platform to connect active researchers with a key interest in advances in cancer immunology. Here, committee members of the Group tell you more about their upcoming Checkpoint Blockade conference, taking place on 23 March 2022 in Birmingham, including some exciting speakers to look forward to and plenty of networking opportunities.

Collaborative therapeutics

Beyond the transformative process of carcinogenesis, for a tumour to grow and become established in the body there is often a failure in the immunological control keeping this at bay, a concept called tumour immunosurveillance. Various methods of immunological escape are facilitated by adapted tumour cells, including the manipulation of immune cells through ‘immune checkpoints’. These ligand–receptor systems are essential to balance immune activity and prevent autoimmunity; however, tumours can overexpress ligands that send ‘off’ signals to T cells and therefore suppress anti-tumour responses.

Cancer immunotherapies are typically designed to promote or enhance immune responses against tumours, and the introduction of drugs targeting immune checkpoints has been revolutionary for an ever-growing list of cancers and has changed clinical practice. Although immune checkpoint inhibitors have proved an effective treatment for many patients who previously did not have any therapeutic options left, not all patients benefit. Researchers are now coming together to dynamically address this by combining collective understandings of fundamental immunology, biology of the tumour and its microenvironment, and rational therapeutic strategies.


Connecting at conference

The BSI Tumour Immunology Affinity Group (TIG) seeks to connect scientists and clinicians researching cancer immunology to create a diverse and collaborative group of researchers to answer the key questions in the field. Before the COVID-19 lockdowns, our Affinity Group organised a sold-out inaugural one-day conference called ‘Checkpoint Blockade – Understanding mechanisms, unlocking new approaches’; however, this meeting was sadly postponed due to these world-changing events. We now have the pleasure of announcing that we are rescheduling this meeting in keeping with the original theme, which will be held on 23 March 2022 in Birmingham.

This meeting, hosted by Professor Gary Middleton (University of Birmingham), will bring together experts from different areas of cancer immunology research to discuss the story of immune checkpoint blockade – from biology to clinical translation.


What’s on offer?

This story begins with our first session ‘Molecular mechanisms of immune checkpoints’, in which we will hear about the nuances of checkpoint inhibition – what happens to the cell upon checkpoint blockade and how we can exploit these cellular programmes. One of the speakers that we will hear from during this session is Professor Simon Davis (University of Oxford), who will explore the intricate biology of T cell checkpoint receptors.

During lunch, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in a poster session and interact with a range of partners from industry and specialist partners including the National Cancer Research Institute.

The second session ‘Tumour genetics and microenvironment influencing checkpoint blockade’ will explore how the genetic, epigenetic, and metabolic characteristics of tumours can shape responses to checkpoint inhibition, and how the stromal microenvironment formed by the tumour for its survival is also crucial in determining the impact of this therapy. This session will host talks from Associate Professor Ping-Chih Ho (University of Lausanne) on the impact of immunometabolism on checkpoint blockade, Dr Shoba Amarnath (Newcastle University) on innate lymphoid cells within the tumour microenvironment and Professor David Withers (University of Birmingham) on real-time tracking of immune cell changes in response to checkpoint blockade.

The final session, ‘Novel therapeutics and combinations’, will explore rational combinations of different checkpoint inhibitors and with cellular immunotherapies, with an additional focus on treatment stratification. Attendees will hear from an industry specialist who will discuss their research into combination therapies and will provide an update on ongoing clinical trials. The conference will be closed by Professor Gary Middleton, who will outline his work on patient stratification and on immune-related adverse events from inhibition of immune checkpoints. There will then be an opportunity for networking into the evening.

The excitement around tumour immunology at this moment in time is truly astonishing, and we are immensely proud to organise a meeting dedicated to checkpoint inhibition which represents the cornerstone of a new era for cancer therapy. See you in Birmingham next year!


The BSI Tumour Immunology Group

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