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BSI Tumour Immunology Group

The British Society for Immunology is relaunching its Tumour Immunology Group, a UK-wide BSI Affinity Group that aims to create a platform to connect active researchers with a key interest in advances in cancer immunology. Here, members of the group tell you more about how they aim to facilitate networking and encourage future collaborations in the field.

A hot topic in immunology

The leadership team of the Tumour Immunology Group (TIG), comprising Professor Ben Willcox (University of Birmingham), Dr Seth Coffelt (University of Glasgow) and Professor Awen Gallimore (Cardiff University), will be aiming to bring immunologists together from both the fundamental and clinical ends of the spectrum, and also from industry, via an ongoing series of events. The events will explore topical areas within the cancer immunology and immunotherapy arena and aim to stimulate nascent collaborations.

“Only a few years ago cancer immunotherapy was looked upon as somewhat of a pipedream. Now, due to the introduction of powerful new immunotherapeutic approaches to the clinic, that perception has been completely transformed. Cancer immunology is rightly viewed as one of the most exciting areas of both oncology and immunology, and a potential pipeline for future advances.” Ben Willcox commented.

One of the most significant steps forward has been the development of checkpoint blockade drugs, which have revolutionised treatment for some solid cancers, and led to award of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to James Allison and Tasuku Honjo. A second key advance is the development of chimeric antigen receptor-modified T cells, which has proven a powerful approach for certain CD19-positive B cell cancers.

Harnessing the impact of cancer immunotherapy

Awen Gallimore highlighted that these new immunotherapy approaches are transformative, can achieve durable cancer remissions – even in late-stage cancers and when other treatments have failed, and have now been incorporated into ‘standard-ofcare’ treatment pathways for some cancers. “However, it is important to remember that these game-changing immunotherapies ultimately stemmed from our understanding of fundamental immunology,” she commented. “An empowering message for the immunologists is that there is plenty of room for improvement: we need to extend these successes to more patients, and the more difficult-to-treat cancers.”

The realisation that the immune response to tumours can not only be extremely powerful, but also harnessable clinically, has created a strong impetus to understand immune surveillance and immune control of cancer in more depth. As Seth Coffelt commented, “Great progress is being made into our understanding of how the immune system interacts with tumours. This includes how ‘unconventional’ immune cells function in this context, the interplay between different immune cell types, and the complex immunology of the tumour microenvironment.” He was optimistic about the opportunities these areas provide. “Ultimately, scientific advances in these areas will translate into new avenues for rational development of immunotherapies, and combination approaches.”

Bringing together the TIG community

With BSI approval in place for an inaugural TIG conference in early 2020, the group’s leadership are excited to develop a whole series of events to explore diverse aspects of the topic.

We are delighted to formally relaunch the BSI’s Tumour Immunology Group. As a UK-wide affinity group, we believe it will provide an excellent forum to catalyse the interest of a diverse array of immunologists in this exciting area.

Finally, they emphasised the strong interest in the cancer immunology area. “We have arguably entered a ‘golden age of cancer immunotherapy’. Exploring the immunology driving the next wave of developments is of strong importance and interest to academics, clinicians, industry, funding bodies including cancer charities, and ultimately to cancer patients. We believe the Tumour Immunology Group can play a big part in bringing this diverse and vibrant community together to help accelerate those new developments.”

Are you interested in joining the group and participating in upcoming activities? Visit their page and follow them on Twitter @BSI_TumourImm. All BSI members are encouraged to join our Regional Groups and Affinity Groups. Find out how to join one here.