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Özlem Türeci appointed new Professor of Personalized Immunotherapy at HI-TRON Mainz

No. 67 | 07/12/2021 | by Koh/br

The world-renowned immunologist, cancer researcher, and entrepreneur Özlem Türeci has accepted the professorship of Personalized Immunotherapy at the Mainz University Medical Center and the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON) Mainz, which was founded in 2019. HI-TRON is a partnership between the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and a subsidiary of the Mainz University Medical Center, TRON gGmbH, along with the Mainz University Medical Center and the University of Mainz. The aim of this collaboration is to develop effective immunotherapies and to identify new biomarkers for treatment.

Özlem Türeci
© BioNTech

At HI-TRON Mainz, Prof. Özlem Türeci will be promoting the development and preclinical study of innovative immunotherapy concepts. These include precision immunotherapies such as individualized RNA vaccines and genetically modified T cells that target mutant tumor proteins known as neoantigens. "In my division at HI-TRON Mainz, we aim to use personalized approaches to help make the patient's immune system a powerful weapon against cancer," explained Özlem Türeci. "For me, ensuring that our results reach the patients quickly is one of the key goals, so we will be consistently gearing our research toward translation."

"We are proud and delighted that Özlem Türeci, an outstanding immunologist and cancer researcher, is coming to HI-TRON Mainz. Her expertise in developing innovative cancer immunotherapies is unparalleled across the globe," commented Prof. Michael Baumann, Chairman of the DKFZ. "HI-TRON Mainz and patients throughout the world will particularly benefit from her extensive experience in translating laboratory results into clinical studies."

"Özlem Türeci is an excellent scientist and we are delighted that she has agreed to join the team at the University of Mainz," remarked Prof. Georg Krausch, president of the university. "Her activities at HI-TRON will consolidate the close cooperation between the university and the Helmholtz community geared toward developing new cancer treatments."

"The Mainz University Medical Center has a very long tradition in the field of immunology, generating outstanding expertise in the area over a period of five decades through a large number of special research fields and large-scale research projects. Özlem Türeci's outstanding expertise is one of the factors that has made Mainz, as a center of science, and the Rhine-Main area in general an internationally renowned innovation hub for biotechnology," explained Prof. Ulrich Förstermann, Chief Scientific Officer and Dean of the Mainz University Medical Center.

"As a result of the new professorship and the excellent candidate recruited to fill it, researchers will no doubt make great progress in harnessing the potential of immunotherapy to the full and in adapting treatment to the individual patient. We are delighted to be teaming up with HI-TRON and Özlem Türeci to advance this pioneering area of research," emphasized Prof. Norbert Pfeiffer, Chairman of the Board and Medical Director of the Mainz University Medical Center.

Following her medical studies and initial research experience at the University of Saarland in Homburg, Özlem Türeci moved to the Mainz University Medical Center in 2000, where she qualified as a professor in 2002. She initially worked there at the Medical Clinic and Polyclinic III and was head of a working group in a special research area in the field of immunology. Since qualifying as a professor, she has been lecturing at the Mainz University Medical Center in the field of cancer immunotherapy. On October 1, 2021, Özlem Türeci was appointed Professor of Personalized Immunotherapy at the Mainz University Medical Center in a full professorship post set up jointly by the University of Mainz, the DKFZ, and HI-TRON.

In 2001, she was involved in founding Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG, of which she was CEO until the company was sold in 2016. Since 2011, she has been co-founder and member of the Board of the Ci3 Cluster for Individualized Immune Intervention in Mainz. Özlem Türeci acquired an international reputation in her role as Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech AG, which she co-founded in 2009.

Özlem Türeci has already received a number of awards for her scientific achievements, including most recently the highly prestigious Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize 2022.

HI-TRON Mainz is a partnership between the DKFZ, TRON gGmbH, the Mainz University Medical Center Mainz, and the University of Mainz designed to pool the partners' internationally outstanding expertise in the field of personalized immunotherapy with the top-level research with a translational focus at the DKFZ. The mission of HI-TRON Mainz is to build on the partners' expertise and know-how in order to harness the potential of individualized immunotherapy to benefit cancer patients. Further, its strategic goal is to position Germany in the group of international leaders in this innovative and relevant field. The research projects are selected based on the strict criterion that direct benefit for the patient should be of the utmost priority.

In addition to developing innovative cancer immunotherapies, research at HI-TRON Mainz focuses on identifying new therapeutic target structures and biomarkers for personalized cancer immunotherapy. Researchers also hope to use novel model systems to study whether synergies can be created by combining various different immunotherapies.

This research is based on the comprehensive molecular characterization of individual tumor profiles. The researchers hope that this will enable them to arrive at a better understanding of the interactions between tumor antigens, the tumor microenvironment, and the immune response. Bioinformatic solutions are being developed to evaluate and interpret these data from the high-throughput approaches.

In order to conduct clinical trials on new individualized immunotherapy approaches at an early stage, a special cooperation interface is being created at HI-TRON Mainz for scientists and doctors involved in clinical research. This is designed to ensure that novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches can be translated into clinical trials more rapidly and can be continually improved. In addition, technology platforms provide specific technical and methodological know-how for the HI-TRON projects. The first example is the T-Cell Discovery Platform, which can be used to identify, isolate, and functionally characterize cancer-specific T cell receptor candidates.

By setting up the Helmholtz institutes, the Helmholtz community lays the foundation for close, long-term cooperation between a Helmholtz center – in this case the DKFZ – and a university in an area of research of particular importance to both partners.

HI-TRON Mainz is currently housed in a building belonging to the Mainz University Medical Center, but from 2025 it will probably be moving into its own new laboratory building, for which the State of Rhineland-Palatinate has provided 25 million euros. As of this year, following on from start-up financing from the State of Rhineland-Palatinate, the University of Mainz, and the DKFZ, HI-TRON Mainz will be receiving 5.5 million euros in funding annually, 90% of which is provided by the German Government and the remaining 10% by the State of Rhineland-Palatinate. The Helmholtz community is also contributing to funding of Özlem Türeci's division at HI-TRON Mainz.

The University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is the only medical institution of supra-maximum supply in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate and an internationally recognized science location. Medical and scientific specialists at 60 clinics, institutes and departments work interdisciplinarily to treat more than 300,000 patients per year. Highly specialized patient care, research and teaching are inseparably intertwined. Around 3,300 medicine and dentistry students as well as more than 600 future medical, commercial and technical professionals are trained in Mainz. With a workforce of approximately 8,600 colleagues the University Medical Center Mainz is one of the largest employers in the region and an important driver of growth and innovation. Find more information online at www.unimedizin-mainz.de/?L=1.

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.

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