Captain T Cell

Cancer immunotherapy: MDC researchers win start-up competition

A big moment for cancer-fighting T-cell therapy: “Captain T Cell,” a start-up project led by researchers from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), has won this year’s OneStart competition in London.

Several working groups at the MDC are researching ways of using the immune system’s T cells to fight cancer in a targeted and effective manner with minimal side effects. To achieve this, they equip T cells with tumor-specific receptors that allow them to detect and specifically eliminate mutated tumor cells in the body. There is a great need for new T-cell receptors if larger groups of patients are to be treated with these personalized therapies.

The Captain T Cell start-up project aims to drive forward the transfer of this new technology from research laboratories to patient application. Captain T Cell is the initiative of MDC scientists Felix Lorenz, Elisa Kieback, Julian Clauß and Inan Edes. Using a new technology developed in the MDC laboratory of Prof. Wolfgang Uckert’s working group, the scientists are working on ways to quickly and reliably identify T-cell receptors and develop a platform for their widescale application. This brings immunotherapy one step closer to the use in humans.

The group submitted their concept to OneStart – the world’s largest competition for start-ups in the field of health and life sciences. On May 16 they were selected as the winning entry from 400 international teams. This is the first time that the prize money of £100,000 has been awarded to a team from outside the U.S. or the U.K.

Captain T Cell is supported by the MDC’s own Technology Transfer Office and by the SPARK Berlin program – a mentoring network from the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and the Stiftung Charité that promotes application-oriented projects in biomedicine both financially and through consultation and training programs.

T-cell therapy is a major area of expertise of researchers at the MDC, which carries out basic biomedical research with the aim of understanding the molecular causes of disease and health and translating these findings as quickly as possible into clinical application.