Next-generation CAR T cells for pediatric rhabomyosarcoma

Group Bernasconi, Rössler   We aim to improve existing therapies for pediatric solid tumors and to devise more effective and less toxic therapies, with a particular focus on rhabdomyosarcoma. 
Pediatric sarcomas account for about 15% of pediatric cancers. The relapse rate is generally high with extremely poor prognosis. CAR T cells are engineered T cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). CAR T cells therapy is one of the most promising approaches against relapsed or otherwise untreatable cancers. 
Since 2018, our laboratory focuses on this personalized immunotherapy, in order to enhance the normal capacity of the patient's immune system to recognize and attack the tumor. We have investigated rhabdomyosarcoma surfaceome by proteomics and we have identified several targets for CAR T cells. We are now conducting in vitro and in vivo experiments to improve CAR T cells activity against rhabdomyosarcoma.

Design, synthesis, analysis, and optimization of novel small molecule inhibitors against prostate cancer

Group Pandey   Androgens are linked to pathology of prostate cancer. Cytochrome P450 CYP17A1 and Aldo-keto reductase AKR1C3 involved in steroid metabolism are drug targets. The current anti-prostate cancer drug, abiraterone, targeting CYP17A1, is not very effective, and has side effects. We found that Abiraterone inhibits CYP21A2 and cortisol production; and a metabolite of abiraterone is a potent androgen, which ultimately defeats the treatment. With computational and medicinal chemistry groups from Denmark, Poland, Italy and Spain, we produce novel inhibitors of CYP17A1 and AKR1C3.
We design and improve the compounds and test them in the laboratory. After the virtual screening, we apply machine learning and automated workflows to identify pharmacophores for structural modifications and synthesis of novel chemicals. Nanoparticle based delivery is used to enhance the efficacy. Using several cell and recombinant protein models novel inhibitors are being tested which are now working at nano molar levels.

Towards understanding the role of the minor spliceosome in cancer

Group Rubin   Genes are composed of coding units (exons), interspersed with non-coding regions called introns. The process of protein production involves splicing together exons while removing introns from the mRNA molecule. Evolution has given rise to a cellular apparatus called the spliceosome, responsible for carrying out this splicing process. Alternative splicing enables the generation of diverse protein isoforms from a single gene. Splicing is tightly regulated under normal physiological conditions. Our recent findings indicate that cancer cells use a specialized spliceosome, the so-called minor spliceosome, to increase cancer relevant mRNAs. As such cancer hijacks the minor intron-splicing machinery to enhance the expression of transcripts containing minor introns. Proteins encoded by those genes have been shown to activate critical cell survival pathways such as cell cycle regulation and DNA repair. Exploiting the reliance of cancer cells on minor intron-containing genes presents a novel therapeutic opportunity for targeting cancer. By inhibiting the minor spliceosome, we can selectively induce cell death in cancer cells while sparing healthy neighboring cells.