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Through the Oxford Cancer Immuno-Oncology Network (OCION), we aim to realise the long-term curative benefits of immunotherapy for more patients by devising new treatments, broadening the impact of existing treatments, and reducing side effects. We sat down with Director, Tim Elliott, to discuss further.

Why did you decide to found OCION?

Oxford is one of the top places in the world for immunology research, and I wanted to formulate a way to focus the power of this community on cancer immunology which has huge potential to revolutionise cancer immunotherapy. The network helps kickstart new interdisciplinary immuno-oncology collaborations by organising events where immunologists and cancer specialists can meet, providing seed funding for new research, developing a cancer immunology data commons and providing project management support.


What are your hopes for OCION over the next 5 years?

I hope to grow the network and broaden its reach, bringing in industry partners to provide additional funding and expertise. We have already helped a number of researchers to develop their interest in cancer immunology and to win external grant funding for it.  Over the next 5 years I hope we will continue to build immuno-oncology capacity in this way and realise Oxford’s great potential in this area.


Tell us about your research  

My personal research focusses on how ‘antigen processing and presentation’ works to alert the immune system to changes in cells in the body that could lead to cancer. Most of my research has been to work out the mechanism by which proteins (from abnormal or virus-infected cells) are broken down into identifiable pieces and presented to T cells.  We have captured this pathway in a mathematical model which is helping us to design a new generation of vaccines that could be used to prevent cancer from developing in individuals at high risk.  


What are the potential implications of this work for patients?  

To persist, tumours must evade destruction by the immune system. Reigniting our immune system to kill tumours has huge potential to treat cancer with minimal side effects. My team’s research hopes to facilitate this by improving our understanding of how immune cells recognise tumours and how tumours evade immune detection.  This knowledge can then be used to design new treatments including vaccines and other tumour-specific therapeutics, provide a rationale for combining immune-based therapies, and even guide the development of immunological interceptions that stops the development of malignancies.


What do you think should be priorities for the cancer field in the next 10 years? 

Given cancer is such a complex disease, to make further advances we need to stop working in siloes and instead bring together scientists working at the forefront of different fields (e.g. biologists, chemists, engineers, mathematicians, social scientists) in an environment that allows the seamless transfer of scientific breakthroughs to patient benefit. Alongside improved acknowledgement for team science, we must establish more environmentally sustainable methods of working and better tools for data sharing to maximise outputs.  This is the only way we will be able to approach big challenges like understanding how cancer interacts with other chronic diseases such as dementia, metabolic disease and cardiovascular disease when they co-exist– a major concern in an increasingly aged population - and how this will impact on (e.g. immunological) treatment.

 

Read more about Tim on his Nuffield Department of Medicine Profile

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