Press release
Lausanne, 17 septembre 2021

The ESMO 2021 Award for Translational Research recognizes the work of the Department of Oncology UNIL CHUV and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Lausanne by rewarding its director, Prof. George Coukos

Pr George Coukos, Director of the Department of oncology UNIL CHUV and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research’s Lausanne Branch has received the Translational Research Award of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) today in Paris. The ceremony is part of the ESMO Congress 2021, an annual event organised by the leading professional organisation for medical oncology that convenes its worldwide membership of 25,000 oncology professionals. This distinction, awarded to candidates “internationally recognised for outstanding achievements in translational research”, acknowledges Pr George Coukos’ breakthrough contribution to cancer immunotherapy. It reflects the achievements of the teams of the Department of Oncology UNIL CHUV and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research Lausanne, as a major international center in the fight against cancer.

Dr Jänne (ESMO Congress 2021 scientific co-chair), Pr. Peters (ESMO president), Pr. Coukos (director of the department of oncology UNIL CHUV and the Ludwig Institute for cancer research’s Lausanne branch) and Dr Curigliano (ESMO guidelines committee chair) during the ceremony, September 17 2021 © ESMO

The Human Integrated Tumor Immunology Discovery Engine (hi-TIDe), a multidisciplinary research group that Prof. Coukos created within the Department of Oncology UNIL CHUV and the Ludwig Institute Lausanne, is now developing and testing new and rational approaches to T cell therapy. An active programme is underway to apply T-cell based concepts within clinic trials. A phase I study with tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes has recently been completed and a new trial with neoantigen-enriched TILs was initiated this spring.

Major upheaval
George Coukos' first breakthrough contribution to immunotherapy was the discovery of a spontaneous antitumour immune response in ovarian cancer, overturning the prevailing dogma that only a few tumour types (e.g. melanoma or kidney cancer) are immunogenic. This observation reignited the study of anti-tumour immunity, with the subsequent validation of Pr Coukos' findings not only in ovarian cancer, but in all solid tumours, leading to the aggressive pursuit of immune checkpoint blockade as a means of invigorating endogenous anti-tumour immunity. Since then, the laboratory has described the mechanisms of immune recognition, including neoantigens, but also dysfunctions of the tumour microenvironment - including, among these, the regulatory function of tumour vasculature on immune attack.

While at Penn (University of Pennsylvania), George Coukos was the first to envisage the new unifying hypothesis that immune tolerance and tumour angiogenesis as two facets of the same biological programme in the tumour microenvironment, jointly aimed at promoting tumour progression. This programme is executed by the same types of immune cells, which perform both tasks simultaneously, and can be reprogrammed and committed to either tolerogenic/proangiogenic or angiostatic/immune rejection phenotypes, depending on the overall signals of the tumour microenvironment. The laboratory described the proangiogenic role of T regulatory cells (Treg) and specialised tumour monocytes. Pr Coukos was also the first to propose the novel notion of the tumour endothelial barrier, i.e. that the vascular system actively controls the localisation of T cells in tumours by precisely regulated molecular mechanisms, largely driven by proangiogenic and paracrine inflammatory mediators.

Success shown in several cancer types
Again, this discovery overturned the established dogma that T cells diffuse into tumours passively due to capillary leakage. Different molecular mechanisms have been identified, offering new therapeutic targets for cancer immunotherapy. Several clinical trials are currently underway, led by Pr Coukos’ teams and others, to test the combination of anti-angiogenesis drugs with immunotherapy. Today, the combination therapies that target both angiogenesis and immune cells proposed by Pr Coukos have been successfully tested and approved by medical regulatory bodies for liver, lung and kidney cancers.

George Coukos has also played an active role in translating laboratory results to the clinic, through early phase clinical trials. Significant efforts have equally been undertaken by his teams to develop an autologous dendritic cell vaccine and adoptive T-cell therapy with vaccine-primed autologous T-cells to mobilise anti-tumour immunity in ovarian cancer.

About Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)

CHUV is one of Switzerland’s five university hospitals, alongside Geneva, Bern, Basel and Zurich. It is tasked with three basic missions by the public authorities, namely care, teaching and research. It provides care in all areas of medicine, including physical disorders and psychiatric illnesses, medical and surgical disciplines, outpatient and inpatient treatment.

In 2021, CHUV’s 12,228 employees cared for 51,205 inpatients, accounting for over 500,374 days of hospitalisation. It dealt with 80,261 emergencies, provided 1,451,300 outpatient consultations and welcomed 3,177 new babies into the world. Its annual budget is 1.832 billion Swiss francs.

CHUV works closely with the Faculty of Biology and Medicine of the University of Lausanne to provide undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education for doctors. It also works with other higher education institutions in the Lake Geneva area (including EPFL, ISREC, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Geneva), with the University Hospitals of Geneva and other hospitals, health care providers and institutions, such as the Federation of Vaud Hospitals and the Vaud Society of Medicine.

Since 2019, CHUV has been ranked as one of the best hospitals in the world according to Newsweek magazine.