Crick translation prize goes to cancer vaccine researchers

Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation winners: George Kassiotis, Jan Attig, George Young and Houman Ashrafian

The Crick’s annual Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation has been awarded to a group of Crick researchers working towards developing a cancer vaccine.

Crick group leader George Kassiotis, along with lab member Jan Attig, George Young of the Stoye lab and Crick entrepreneur in residence Houman Ashrafian, were presented with the award at the Crick last night.

George’s team discovered a new class of cancer-specific antigens made by a group of ancient viruses, which have become part of the human genome, called human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). George’s team were chosen as Cooksey prize winners for their work in developing these antigens as candidates for cancer vaccines.

Their work has led to the creation of a spinout company, ErVaxx, with the aim of testing the cancer-specific ERVs as cancer vaccine targets. ErVaxx, which has since attracted £13m of funding, is validating the concept and working toward vaccine development.

On announcing the award, Sir David Cooksey said: “This year’s winners are a group who have built upon their tremendous science and worked in an interdisciplinary way to create a company with the potential to impact cancer treatment in the future.

Their work demonstrates that the Crick, with its novel translational support approach, is a fantastic place for innovation, enabling its scientists to achieve the Crick’s aims.
Sir David Cooksey

Their work demonstrates that the Crick, with its novel translational support approach, is a fantastic place for innovation, enabling its scientists to achieve the Crick’s aims.”

The Cooksey prize aims to recognise and celebrate individuals and teams contributing to the Crick translation strategy to share excellence in translation, create awareness of translation work at the Crick and inspire others. The winning team receives £10,000 for their research in addition to a £2,000 cash prize.

Broadly classified under three categories - target validation, therapeutic potential and technology platforms - the five nominations for this year’s prize represent the breadth of translation taking place at the Crick.

“We had five exceptional teams nominated for this year’s flagship prize, and choosing a winner was incredibly difficult,” said Veronique Birault, Head of the Crick’s Translation team.

We had five exceptional teams nominated for this year’s flagship prize, and choosing a winner was incredibly difficult.
Veronique Birault, Head of Translation

Given the quality of the nominations this year, a runner-up team was also recognised. Led by Romeo Racz in Andreas Schaefer’s Neurophysiology of Behaviour Laboratory, the team have built innovative bioelectronics technology, which contributes to understanding mammalian brain function.

“This team are an excellent example of visualising the broad translational opportunity of a technology developed from their lab’s basic research question; of driving the research enabling instrument; and of collaborating widely outside of the Crick to expand their thinking on the wider therapeutic impact,” said Veronique.

Translation fellows

2018 Crick Translation Fellowships were also awarded to the winners and runners up of the 2018 prize, along with nominated teams. The fellows will help to create an outstanding translation community and be role models for others.

These include Ravi Desai, Head of the Making Lab STP, who was nominated for his work in helping to optimise and disseminate Romeo’s electrochemically modified microwires.

Andreas Schaefer was nominated for his encouragement of two nominated projects from his lab – Romeo’s microwires and Mihaly Kollo’s AI-driven search engine ‘Heron’.

Caroline Hill, group leader of the Developmental Signalling laboratory, and postdoc Daniel Miller have worked to validate a target for the treatment of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). This has the potential to reduce desmoplasia, promote an anti-tumour immune response and decrease cachexia (muscle-wasting).

Markus Ralser and his postdoc Aleksej Zeleznia have translated their expertise in yeast metabolism into humans, pioneering a unique technology to stratify patients for personalised medicine applications, as well as remedy a bottleneck in patient stratification in clinical trials.

Howard Marriage, the Crick’s first entrepreneur in residence, was awarded an Honorary Translation Fellowship for his work in helping to establish the translation strategy for the Crick, with David Roblin, Chair in Scientific Translation.

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