The main focus of the Department of Peptide-based Immunotherapy Department is the development of clinically effective peptide-based vaccination approaches for tumor patients. Therefore, the first important point is the selection of the optimal antigens, which should show a high frequent and tumor-exclusive natural presentation on the cell surface of malignant cells and must be recognized by T cells. In this regard, not only neoepitopes, originating from tumor-specific mutations, play an important role, but also tumor-associated self-peptides, which are generated by altered gene expression and protein processing in the tumor cell. Using mass spectrometry-based comparative analysis of healthy tissue and tumor tissue, we have already identified these tumor-associated peptides for various tumor entities such as Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) or Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Based on this preclinical work, two self-developed personalized peptide vaccination concepts for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia are currently being evaluated in clinical trials (NCT02802943 and NCT04688385).
Another important issue for the development of clinically effective peptide-based immunotherapies is the investigation of the influence of various cancer therapies on the HLA-presented peptides - also called immunopeptidome. On the one hand, it must be ensured that the cancer therapy accompanying the immunotherapy does not alter the selected target antigens; on the other hand, specific combinations with adjuvants or immunomodulatory therapies can also lead to the presentation of completely new and therapy-specific antigens. Thus, in order to use peptide-based immunotherapy as effectively as possible, characterization of the influence of a wide variety of therapies and drugs on the immunopeptidome is crucial.