Turbo boosters for the immune system

January 11, 2021

With the Proof of Concept funding line, the ERC grants recipients of ERC frontier research funds (Starting, Consolidator, Advanced or Synergy grants) with 150.000 Euro to develop promising ideas with commercial or societal potential to the proof of concept stage. With this funding, Olaf Groß and his team in the Metabolism and Inflammation Group at the Institute of Neuropathology of the Medical Center - University of Freiburg will test whether a new class of immune activating drugs they discovered can boost the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapies or vaccines against infectious diseases.

Groß studies a protein complex called the inflammasome within macrophages, specialized cells of the body's defense system that patrol tissues for signs of danger. When their inflammasome is activated, macrophages sound the alarm by releasing of potent factors called cytokines. These cytokines alert other cells in the body, initiating an inflammatory response that helps other immune cells attack cancer cells or infections, explains Groß. Within the context of his ERC Starting Grant, he and his team discovered a new class of small molecules that potently and specifically activate the inflammasome, acting like turbo boosters for the immune system.

"There has been great excitement surrounding the development of inflammasome inhibitors for the treatment of inflammatory diseases", Groß explains. "But we think that in the right clinical setting inflammasome activators might be just as valuable", he adds. During the proof of concept phase, Groß and his team will test whether his IMMUNOSTIM compounds improve the efficacy of cancer treatment and vaccines. "We will also be looking for commercial partners for further development of this promising new class of immunotherapeutics", says Groß.

Groß received his doctorate at Technical University of Munich in 2008. Following postdoctoral research at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland he established an independent research group focused on the inflammasome at Klinikum rechts der Isar in Munich. Since 2017, Groß is Professor at the University of Freiburg in the Institute of Neuropathology of the University Medical Center. He is a Speaker of the University of Freiburg's Emerging Field in Metabolism Research and member of the Cluster of Excellence CIBSS - the Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies. Within CIBSS he studies the signalling mechanisms responsible for inflammasome activation by the IMMUNOSTIM compounds and screens for new molecules that modulate metabolic and immune signalling processes.
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University of Freiburg

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