NextGenNK - Newsletter #6

NextGenNK - Newsletter #6


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Letter from the Director 

Time flies! It’s already 2023, and the NextGenNK Competence Center is entering into its fourth year of operation. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, NextGenNK has developed into a well-recognized and respected international entity within the ever growing field of new NK cell-based therapeutics. Evaluating the clinical cell therapy field, NK cell-based immunotherapies now represent the second largest area in terms of all immune cells currently tested in clinical trials, only preceded by T cells. Members of the NextGenNK Competence Center in collaboration with industrial Partners have contributed to several of them. Importantly, they have also taken on an ever expanding role as advisors for many national, and not the least international, health care and industrial actors in the field. This is a good sign of recognition.

Director Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren

Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Director

Photo: Ulf Sirborn

As much as the field is advancing, and progress is being made with exciting clinical results from many clinical trials, development is however not always straightforward. Many questions prevail, and setbacks do occur from time to time. This is inevitable in a new clinical research field. While it may disappoint academic scientists, industrial developers as well as investors in the short term, it contributes to afterthought, and in the long run, new solutions, better products and improved clinical outcomes. The latter is important, not the least having the patient in mind. Ultimately, improving human health through new NK cell-based products is our goal.

We are also facing grand challenges. One such challenge deals with the development of strategies towards targeting solid tumors. Indeed, over the last 10 years, we have seen a large number of successful clinical trials being concluded in the hematological space, not the least when it comes to early clinical trials. It has led academic scientists, as well as industry, to look into the prospects of targeting solid tumors with NK cell-based therapies. Such strategies present challenges, as the cells administrated intravenously need not only to find their way to the tumors, but also need to penetrate the tumors, survive and function in an often immunosuppressive and hypoxic environment. Adding to this, many current NK cell-based immunotherapies are for good reasons allogeneic, but this leads to questions when it comes to strategies to avoid rejection and increase persistence. All these, and many other questions, contribute towards keeping ourselves busy in this exciting area, and time, of medicine.

Following last year’s successful NextGenNK activities in Stockholm, with individual and joint meetings, site visits, and general assembly we foresee several interactive meetings in 2023. In this context, we are very excited to inform you that this year, the international NK cell meeting, NK2023, will be hosted by NK cell scientists from Scandinavia, many of them being part of the NextGenNK Competence Center. The NK2023 meeting will take place at Holmenkollen Park Hotel, Oslo, September 27-29, 2023. NK2023 will be preceded by a meeting workshop – “NK cells in the clinic”, September 26th, 2023, also at Holmenkollen Park Hotel, Olso, which will be cohosted by the NextGenNK Competence Center.

A meeting room with many people, looking into the camera, around a squared table.

Picture from one of the meetings with Center Partners during NextGenNK week 2022. Photo: Carin Dahlberg

In conjunction with these two events, NextGenNK is arranging a pre-meeting for NextGenNK Partners and colleagues on September 25th in Oslo, preliminary to be located close to Oslo airport (Gardermoen). Preliminary information regarding this event was recently sent out to NextGenNK Partner’s contact persons. We are looking forward to seeing you all again soon!

Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Director


Partners in the Competence Center

Karolinska Institutet's website
Alligator Bioscience's website
Avectas' website
BioLamina's website
Karolinska University Hospital's website
Morphogenesis website
Oncternal's website
Sorrento's website
Vycellix' website
XNK Therapeutic's website
Zelluna Immunotherapy's website

Spotlight – Sorrento Therapeutics

Lab person in a cleanroom

Sorrento leadership team visiting Karolinska Institutet in September 2022. From left; Wenzhong Guo, Colin Powers, Robbie Allen, John Dixon Grey, Evren Alici (KI), Bill Farley. Photo: Carin Dahlberg

Under the heading "Spotlight," we present Partners involved in the NextGenNK Competence Center. Sorrento Therapeutics is a San Diego, US, based immuno-oncology-centric company. The company's portfolio includes immune checkpoint inhibitors, bispecific antibodies, antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), oncolytic viruses as well as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and dimeric antigen receptor (DAR) based cellular therapies. For more info, please visit Sorrento's website.


Meet an NK cell scientist – Quirin Hammer

Tell us about your research

A central goal of our research is to better understand how NK cells can distinguish between healthy and aberrant cells. For this, we delineate molecular signals that allow NK cells to recognize and eliminate virus-infected or tumor-transformed cells.

When did I first hear the about NK cells?

Apart from very basic textbooks or lectures, my first real contact with NK cells was when I completed a lab rotation in the group of Prof. Chiara Romagnani. At first, I was rather confused by the complexity of NK cells, but I quickly grew very fond of them (including their complexity!) and I had a fantastic time in Chiara’s lab.

What do you wish to achieve with your research?

Ultimately, we seek to apply our knowledge for the benefit of patients. In this regard, NK cell-based immunotherapies are outstanding opportunities to translate our deep understanding of NK cell functional regulation into novel therapeutic approaches. The NextGenNK competence center represents an optimal platform for this transformative aspect of our work.

Woman in green t-shirt, brown hair and hainging ear rings

Quirin Hammer, PhD
Photo: Tyler Sandberg

What is the best part of your job?

I enjoy solving problems and in science, no problem is ever too small or too big to be solved. Moreover, I really appreciate working closely with fellow scientists and especially students. Contributing to the scientific training of students is a great pleasure - I try to inspire them with my approach to addressing scientific questions and their enthusiasm as well as curiosity are always contagious.


NextGenNK directors, Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren and Evren Alici participated in the podcast series “Immuno Oncology Talks” during the fall 2022. The topics of the podcasts are: the biology of NK cells and NK cell-based cancer immunotherapies.

The Sanofi “Immuno Oncology Talks” aims to shed light on cutting edge science that is evolving with new immunological therapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancers. For more information and additional episodes, please visit the podcast's website.

NextGenNK website LinkedIn Twitter

Research and Development

Björn Önfelt and his group focus on developing and using a range of miniaturized imaging assays for assessment of NK cell function and efficacy. These assays can for example, resolve functional heterogeneity between individual NK cells, detecting small fractions of extraordinary cytotoxic NK “serial killers”, or quantify NK-mediated killing and infiltration in tumor spheroids. Within the frame of NextGenNK these assays are used to assess differences in NK cell responses in clinically relevant settings, e.g. during treatment with checkpoint blockade or killer engagers. For more information about the Önfelt lab and research, please visit their website.

The vision of the NextGenNK Competence Center is to transform tomorrow’s means of treating cancer by innovative and affordable NK cell-based immunotherapies developed in collaboration with SME/industry and health care, and thereby, contribute towards making Sweden one of the global leaders in the field of cancer immunotherapy. Novel immunotherapies have the potential to transform current medical practice, with the intent to treat, manage, and potentially cure some of the most debilitating and costly diseases. As such, we aim to contribute to the development of a new strong segment in the Swedish Life Science Industry.

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