Eradicating tumours with personalised cancer vaccines

A team of 16 led by Professor Lindy Durrant

Germany, The Netherlands, UK and USA

 Immunologists, surgeons, neuroimmunologists, biologists and clinicians

 5 years


Cancer vaccinology Grand Challenge

The challenge: Create novel tumour vaccinology approaches that establish or enhance successful immune responses beyond what is revealed by current checkpoint therapy.

We are thrilled to be on Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge shortlist: this brings us one step closer to delivering a cancer vaccine template. We believe this approach will facilitate the development of a comprehensive strategy of combinatorial cancer treatment for patients with most types of cancer. Our unique academic-biotech-clinical partnership, facilitating access to reagents and clinical trials, positions us for success in this space.


Professor Lindy Durrant, Principal Investigator


In recent years, therapies that are designed to boost our body’s immune system have revolutionised the treatment of cancer. However, these treatments don’t work in all patients, or against all cancers. That’s because right now we don’t completely understand how different parts of the immune system work together and interact with tumour cells. Currently available immune-boosting therapies – known as ‘cancer vaccines’ – are only targeting a small number of molecules on the surface of tumours, often only triggering a weak response by our immune system. 

Professor Lindy Durrant and her team of scientists from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and the USA believe that there is a far greater repertoire of molecules that could be targets for cancer vaccines waiting to be discovered. Using the latest vaccination technology, the team believe that they can design cancer vaccines that achieve a much better immune response in significantly more patients.

By not focusing on a single molecule or type of cancer but rather exploring the full spectrum of molecules and combination of molecules capable of inducing specific anti-tumour responses, this Grand Challenge project aims to build templates for how to treat different cancers, with the hope that eventually cancer patients will be offered a vaccine that is specifically designed for their unique tumour.

The Research

In a project spanning four countries, across two different continents, Professor Durrant’s team aim to develop a better understanding of molecules on the surface of tumours – known as ‘tumour antigens’ – that could be targets for treatments. The team will screen huge numbers of these tumour antigens and use machine learning tools to predict which of these would trigger a good immune response in individual patients with cancer. Alongside this, the team will be testing a variety of ways of delivering the treatment to make sure that their vaccine gets to the tumour as efficiently as possible. 

Armed with this knowledge, the team will then test their ideas in investigator-initiated clinical studies – with a special focus on patients with head and neck cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and one type of brain tumour. This will provide crucial missing pieces of the puzzle as to how personalised cancer vaccines can impact patients.


This research could result in a paradigm shift in the way we treat cancer. If successful, these templates for cancer treatment will allow doctors to easily identify which antigens to target, and then which type of vaccine to use, to create truly bespoke vaccines for each patient. As this type of treatment will be personalised based on each patient’s unique tumour, this could radically improve survival on a global scale.

The academic-biotech-clinical partnerships in this application are really unique, the different perspectives that each discipline brings makes this team’s proposal comprehensive, innovative and therefore very powerful.

Professor Rene Bernards, Grand Challenge Advisory Panel

The Team


Professor Lindy Durrant

Grand Challenge Shortlisted Team Principal Investigator
Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy; Chief Scientific Officer of Scancell

Country: UK
Organisation: University of Nottingham/ Scancell Ltd
Discipline: Cancer immunology


Professor Vinod Balachandran

Assistant Professor of Surgery

Country: USA
Organisation: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Discipline: Surgical oncology


Dr Adam Benham

Associate Professor​ of Molecular Biology

Country: UK
Organisation: Durham University 
Discipline: Molecular biology


Professor Vincenzo Cerundolo

Professor of Immunology

Country: UK
Organisation: University of Oxford
Discipline: Immunology


Professor Dirk Jaeger

Medical Director

Country: Germany
Organisation: National Tumor Center Heidelberg, University Medical Center Heidelberg and German Cancer Research Center
Discipline: Medical oncology


Professor Hisham Mehanna

Director of the Institute of Head and Neck Studies and Education

Country: UK
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Discipline: Surgical oncology


Professor Cornelis Melief

Professor Emeritus and Chief Scientific Officer of ISA Pharmaceuticals

Country: The Netherlands
Organisation: University of Leiden; ISA Pharmaceuticals
Discipline: Cancer immunology


Professor Ira Mellman

Vice President of Genentech

Country: USA
Organisation: Genentech
Discipline: Cancer immunology


Professor Christian Ottensmeier

Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine

Country: UK
Organisation: University of Southampton
Discipline: Experimental medicine


Professor Michael Platten

Professor of Neuroimmunology

Country: Germany
Organisation: Heidelberg University
Discipline: Neuroimmunology


Professor Hans-Georg Rammensee

Director, Department of Immunology

Country: Germany
Organisation: Eberhard-Karls University of Tuebingen
Discipline: Translational immunology


Professor Ugur Sahin

MD of TRON and Co-Founder and CEO of BioNTech

Country: Germany
Organisation: TRON; BioNTech
Discipline: Cancer immunology


Professor Jolanda de Vries

Professor of Tumour Immunology

Country: The Netherlands
Organisation: Radboud University
Discipline: Cancer immunology


Professor Pandurangan Vijayanand

Associate Professor of Vaccine Discovery

Country: USA
Organisation: La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology
Discipline: Immunology


Professor Sjoerd van der Burg 

Experimental Cancer Immunology and Therapy program

Country: The Netherlands 
Organisation: Leiden University Medical Center
Discipline: Cancer immunology


Professor Jedd Wolchok

Professor of Clinical Investigation

Country: USA
Organisation: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Discipline: Medical oncology, immunotherapy