Local targeted immunotherapy for treatment of squamous cell carcinomas

Beneficiary: Merete Hædersdal, Bispebjerg Hospital

Grant: 2.358.825 DKK

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) together with basal cell carcinoma comprises the absolute majority of non-melanoma skin cancers, affecting 150,000 persons in Denmark, equivalent to 3% of the population.

SCC’s cost is consequently substantial, reflected by notable patient morbidity, heavy socioeconomic burdens and significant mortality in immunosuppressed populations.

In oncology, systemic immunotherapies with PD1 and CTLA4 antibodies have had revolutionizing impact on clinical cancer treatment. Recognizing the immense potential of these strategies also for SCC, our vision is to pioneer a new local treatment approach by harnessing the immune system to combat SCC, while at the same time avoiding side effects associated with systemic treatment.

In a three-tiered translational project, we thus aim to deliver PD1 and CTLA4 antibodies through the skin using ablative fractional laser (AFL), effectively opening the door to implementation of topical SCC immunotherapy. The project is executed in collaboration with the Wellman Center at Harvard Medical School and Center for Cancer Immune Therapy at Herlev Hospital. The 3-year research plan comprises preclinical studies on biodistribution and pharmacokinetics in healthy skin, a proof-of-concept study in a well-established murine model for human SCC, and an explorative clinical study in SCC patients from the skin cancer clinic at Bispebjerg Hospital. For patients, topical immunotherapy may constitute a safe treatment with decreased morbidity and the prospect of potentially reduced risk of future SCC occurrence. This in turn will lower the socioeconomic burden of repeated treatments for a large cancer patient group, including high-risk immunosuppressed patients such as organ transplant recipients.