The Viruses, Immune stimulation and RNA Interference in Oncology Network (VIRION) consortium is a collaboration between the VU University medical center (Amsterdam, NL) Tilt Biotherapeutics (Helsinki, Finland) and ORCA Therapeutics (Nijmegen, NL). Partners contributing to the training program are: Diamond Pharma consultants (UK), Hyphen Projects (Netherlands), NVGCT (Netherlands society for gene and cell therapy) and Quintess Consultancy (Netherlands).
The overall goal of the VIRION consortium is to train the next generation of biomedical scientists in the research and development of new oncolytic based immunotherapeuticals for the treatment of cancer. For this purpose VIRION has assembled a coherent, integrated network of biomedical scientists developing and exploiting oncolytic immunotherapy technologies. The network will provide the partners and ESRs with possibilities to establish new collaborations. VIRION will structure the research and training of the ESR’s to fully exploit the capacity of its partners. The ESRs will gain experience and get exposed to academic and pharmaceutical working environments by working with the different consortium members. With the involved partners and their respective networks this will provide a broad training experience for the ESRs.
The VIRION consortium is focused on the execution of an internationally competitive cancer research project focused on the development of a novel therapeutic regime by combining immune therapy with oncolytic virotherapy and RNA interference techniques.
Recent clinical successes have shown the immune system to be a powerful ally in the fight against cancer. While surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy remain the first lines of treatment for most tumors, immunotherapy regimens have had astonishing clinical successes. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that pre-existing lymphocytic infiltration of tumors is associated with superior prognostic outcomes in a variety of cancers and might improve cancer therapies targeting immune checkpoints.
However, immune suppression in the tumor microenvironment limits the efficacy of immunotherapy and remains a major hurdle. We aim to potentiate the antitumor immune reaction in the tumor microenvironment through the combination of immune therapy and oncolytic virotherapy. Oncolytic viruses are developed to specifically target and destroy tumor cells. In pre-clinical models, oncolytic adenoviruses have proven a powerful tool in the elimination of tumors, not only by their direct lytic effects but also by their triggering of a subsequent tumor inflammation and enhanced lymphocytic infiltration. VIRION will address how these immune responses can be further enhanced by addition of immune modulating factors and/or siRNA targeting tumor genes that play an immune suppressive role in the tumor micro environment.
The VIRION research programs are aimed at improving therapeutics currently being developed at the non- academic beneficiaries and evaluating the combination treatment possibilities and effects in vitro and in vivo by incorporating the expertise of the academic beneficiary VUmc and the non-academic beneficiaries TILT and ORCA . The projects are designed to optimally use the expertise of all partners and is fully supported by the academic beneficiary enabling eligibility for a PhD degree through the VUmc doctoral program. The scientific objectives are: