Text: Camille Andres
Photo: Eric Déroze

The Swiss Cancer Center, Lausanne

Immunotherapy specialist Lana Kandalaft and her right-hand Kim Ellefsen work together to set up the new Centre for Experimental Therapies to fight cancer.

Bringing together researchers, doctors and patients right in heart of the hospital complex to develop personalised cancer-fighting treatments: That’s the concept behind the Swiss Cancer Center, in Lausanne (SCCL). The Centre for Experimental Therapies (CTE), a unit of the oncology department at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and key part of the SCCL, will be one of the largest immunotherapy centres in Europe when it goes fully operational in 2016.

“Each patient is different. Sometimes the solution used for A does not at all have the same effect on B,” explains Lana Kandalaft, director of the CTE. Doctors are easily overwhelmed by the countless treatments available on the market. How should they choose the best adapted therapy or offer additional care on top of the current standard treatments? Professors George Coukos, chief of the oncology department, and Lana Kandalaft, who came to the CHUV in 2012 from the University of Pennsylvania, have been exploring this very issue.

The CTE will make George Coukos’ original vision a reality, by developing various immunotherapies to offer personalized therapies. They all involve analysing the tumour, after it has been removed from the patient’s body, and keeping it alive in a sterile environment. One method involves creating therapeutic vaccines using cells harvested from the patient. Once reinjected, the vaccine teaches the immune system to defend itself against the cancer. The patient’s cells can also sometimes be genetically modified to make them more effective in fighting the disease. “This technique has produced excellent results in the United States,” says Lana Kandalaft. Other analyses, developed in collaboration with Eric Raymond, chief of the Medical Oncology Service at the CHUV (see “In Vivo” n°1) can indicate which drugs would be best suited to treat the type of cancer and patient involved.

The technology exists. Setting it up here is a huge challenge

What about getting the centre up and running? “The technology exists. Setting it up here is a huge challenge,” says Kim Ellefsen, the CTE’s head of operations and right arm to Lana Kandalaft. While Ms. Kandalaft handles the strategic decisions and oversees the communication on the project, Kim Ellefsen manages the day-to-day operations between the people involved. The contributions to the project by Lana Kandalaft, with her expertise in cancer and immunotherapy, come from her experience in creating a similar structure at the University of Pennsylvania. Kim Ellefsen brings her operational background from the CHUV and her tenacity in dealing with challenges. Together, they form somewhat of a “power duo”. And this will become an increasingly valuable asset as the centre continues to grow. The CTE team will expand from 45 to 80 staff members by 2017 in order to prepare between 200 and 400 cellular therapies for all types of cancers.