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Prestigious ERC grant for innovative immunotherapy research

Filipe Pereira (Photo: Kennet Ruona)
Filipe Pereira (Photo: Kennet Ruona)

The European Research Council today announced the winners of its latest Consolidator Grant competition: 301 top scientists and scholars across Europe. Funding for these researchers, part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, is worth in total EUR 600 million. Filipe Pereira at Lund University in Sweden is one of the 89 selected researchers, and will be awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant of EUR 2 million over a period of five years.

Filipe Pereira will incorporate two completely different fields of research - cellular reprogramming and cancer immunotherapy - into a unique project. By combining these two research areas he wants to develop new strategies for immunotherapy.

“The grant means so incredibly much, and it gives us the resources and confidence to focus on our most ambitious goals in the next few years. The project will increase knowledge about what regulates dendritic cell specification, and subsequently use it to develop an entirely new form of gene therapy for cancer, says Filipe Pereira, associate professor at Lund University and research team leader at the Wallenberg Center for Molecular Medicine in Lund, Lund Stem Cell Center and the strategic research area BioCare.

The research team has, by identifying a combination of proteins, been able to reprogramme human skin cells into dendritic cells in just a few days. The task of the dendritic cells is to break down foreign particles into smaller pieces - so-called antigens - and present them to the immune system's killer cells, which then scan for infectious agents and cancer cells in order to kill them.

“Cancer is able to avoid being detected by the immune system. Tumour cells accumulate mutations as they grow, but at the same time lose the ability to present antigens. This makes it difficult for the immune system to identify tumour cells as a threat, allowing them to grow uncontrollably and spread throughout the body”, explains Filipe Pereira.

The aim of the research project is to further explore and define effective combinations of proteins that control the reprogramming into dendritic cells. This knowledge will be used to reprogramme tumour cells so that they present tumor-specific antigens, making them visible to the immune system. The hope is to develop the first immunotherapy based on cellular reprogramming.

“To be able to carry out our research project, we are collaborating with other universities across Europe, including the UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. An important part of the project's success is our close collaboration with Skåne University Hospital which gives us access to patient material, as well as Asgard Therapeutics, enabling us to translate our results to a clinical environment”, concludes Filipe Pereira.

Filipe Pereira, Associate Senior Lecturer, Wallenberg Molecular Medicine Fellow, Dep. of Laboratory Medicine, Lund University
+ 46 46 2224919 or +46 722430014
filipe [dot] pereira [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Press release from the ERC

Facts about the ERC Consolidator Grant:
• Announced once a year
• Researchers can apply 7-12 years after their dissertation
• EUR 2 million over a period of 5 years
• The grant is very prestigious and applicants face tough international competition (applicants with a host institution in the EU)

A short video about Filipe Pereira's research

Related links:

A code for reprogramming immune sentinels…

Mechanism for turning skin cells into blood stem cells uncovered…

Wallenberg Center for Molecular Medicine

Lund Stem Cell Center…

Asgardh Therapeutics