2020 April 30

Pablo Menéndez receives one of the European Research Council's Proof of Concept grants.

The European Research Council has awarded Josep Carreras Institute's researcher Pablo Menéndez with one of the 55 Proof of Concept grants for researchers from centers throughout Europe.

Pablo Menéndez is one of five researchers in Spain to whom the European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a Proof of Concept grant to finance the transfer of a basic research project, previously funded by the same entity, to its field of application. Of the 146 grants requested, ERC has awarded 55 with a total amount of 25 million euros. Five of these PoCs have been awarded to researchers from centers in Spain, 4 of them Catalan centers.

Pablo Menéndez is the principal investigator of the Stem cell biology, developmental leukemia, and immunotherapy research group at the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute. Menéndez's PoC grant will allocate 150,000 euros to give continuity to the IT4-TALL project, INFANTLEUKEMIA, proving the feasibility, efficacy, and safety of a new CAR therapy against CD1a antigen in cortical T cells of refractory patients of T cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (T-ALL). This type of leukemia has an unfavorable prognosis, and the therapeutic options have not improved in the last 20 years, especially for relapsed or refractory patients.

CAR therapies consist of using healthy immune system cells and modifying them with a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) so that they can recognize and specifically attack cells that have that antigen. These therapies are very promising because they can conduct cells of the immune system to attack only tumor cells, avoiding the side effects of other kinds of treatments and also remaining in the patient's body as an acquired defense to prevent relapses.

This type of therapy has shown an excellent response in patients with relapsed or refractory B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL-B). However, CAR-T cell immunotherapy to treat T-ALL has not yet been well explored, as both tumor T-cells and healthy T-lymphocytes express the same target antigens, causing CAR-T cell fratricide, or immunodeficiency.

Pablo Menéndez proposes a CAR against CD1a antigen, specific for the cortical subtype of T-lymphocytes that does not cause fratricide or generate T-aplasia, published by his group in a study in 2019 in the prestigious scientific journal on hematology Blood. Despite this finding, specific improvements are needed to increase its efficacy and safety, because of an imminent phase I clinical trial. This project will enable the necessary adjustments required by the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) to perform the clinical trial.

The ERC, created by the European Commission in 2007, is the leading European organization for cutting-edge research funding. Every year, it selects and funds the best and most creative researchers of any nationality and age, to carry out projects all over Europe. To date, the ERC has funded more than 9,000 senior researchers at various stages of their careers. It offers four basic grant schemes: Start-up, Consolidation, Advanced and Synergy grants, and is run by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council.