Introduction from the Annual Report 2012/2013 of the Georg-Speyer-Haus

Dear Reader,
dear friends of the Georg-Speyer-Haus,

After the retirement of Prof. Bernd Groner in March 2012, Prof. Winfried Wels served as Interim Director of the Georg-Speyer-Haus. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Winfried Wels for diligently and prudently representing the Institute’s interests during this often very difficult transition period. Starting on August 1st, 2013 I will be taking over the responsibility as Director of the Georg-Speyer-Haus, and I would like to take the opportunity to briefly introduce myself. After graduating from Medical School, I started my clinical and scientific training at the Dept. of Medicine, University Hospital Ulm, before joining the Dept. of Pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego, for a Post-Doctoral Fellowship. Following my Post-Doctoral training I returned to Germany, where I started my own group at the Dept. of Medicine at the Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technical University Munich. Our scientific interest is the tumor microenvironment of colorectal cancer. This is inspired by the very early observations by the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow, who suggested that inflammation is linked to tumorigenesis already in the late 19th century. A large amount of epidemiological data further supported this notion, providing strong evidence that chronic inflammation - triggered by infectious (bacterial or viral) or non-infectious causes (e. g. obesity, excessive alcohol and tobacco use) - markedly increases the risk to develop a tumor. Furthermore, long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and others, can significantly reduce tumor incidence. Using complex genetic mouse models we and other groups were able to demonstrate that cells within the tumor microenvironment are required to drive tumor progression. This microenvironment is comprised of a variety of cells that secrete cytokines and chemokines, which act in a paracrine manner to either promote or suppress tumorigenesis.

A detailed molecular understanding of the cellular composition as well as their secreted factors in the tumor microenvironment is the basis for the development of novel therapeutic strategies targeting cancer. Strategies aiming to interfere with the tumor microenvironment may prove particularly beneficial regarding the development of therapy resistance. Thus, in the years ahead it will be the main goal of the Georg-Speyer-Haus to focus our efforts on unraveling the complex cell-cell interactions within the tumor microenvironment and to identify innovative therapies targeting the microenvironment. Moreover, we plan to establish an infrastructure that will allow the standardized assessment of novel therapies using validated preclinical tumor models.

The objective of the Georg-Speyer-Haus as a charitable foundation is to foster scientific research that can ultimately benefit patients suffering from severe and life-threatening diseases. The Institute is committed to this "Research for Life" since its opening in 1906. Approaches to better understand the tumor microenvironment follow and strengthen this long-standing tradition to translate insights stemming from basic biomedical research into novel therapeutic strategies and concepts. Paul Ehrlich, Nobel Laureate and Founding Director of the Georg-Speyer-Haus, developed his by then revolutionary approach to derive new therapeutic substances from synthetic chemical compounds almost single-handedly from the laboratory all the way to clinical application in patients. Today, expertise from many different disciplines is required to elucidate the molecular processes involved in disease pathogenesis, to identify novel drug targets, and to master the complex and lengthy process of developing and testing new therapeutic approaches. Consequently, successful research in the life sciences without close cooperation across institutional boundaries is no longer conceivable.

Because of its scientific achievements, the open and communicative interaction among its research groups, and its particular flexibility, the Georg-Speyer-Haus has become a well-appreciated partner in national and international scientific networks. Recent examples include the participation of the Institute in the "Deutsches Konsortium für Translationale Krebsforschung" (DKTK) as the German Health Center dedicated to translational cancer research, in the recently established European Network "NET 4CGD" and the BMBF-funded "Cluster for Individualized Immune Intervention" (Ci3), as well as the continuing participation in the positively reviewed LOEWE research focus "Oncogenic Signaling Frankfurt" (OSF). In fall 2013 the LOEWE "Center for Cell and Gene Therapy" (CGT) will be evaluated, which is operative since 2011. Aim of this joint proposal together with the Goethe University and other local partners is the continuation of funding for an additional three years commencing in 2014.

Apart from successfully raising third party funding for their research activities, the different groups of the Institute have again made important scientific discoveries in the past year. These are highlighted on the following pages. The Georg-Speyer-Haus places special emphasis on the support of young scientists, and provides highly qualified junior group leaders with the required infrastructure for an independent research career. After only three years as junior principal investigator, Michael Rieger was appointed Professor for "Basic Mechanisms in Stem Cell Biology" within the LOEWE Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at the Department of Medicine II of the University Hospital Frankfurt in 2012. Until their new laboratories at the University Hospital are ready, Michael Rieger’s group will continue to work as guests in the Georg-Speyer-Haus. Apart from that, Michael Rieger will also continue his various collaborations with other groups of the Georg-Speyer-Haus in the future.

Joachim Koch organized the international symposium "Immune Recognition of Tumor Cells" on November 29th and 30th 2012, attracting internationally leading scientists in the field of NK-cell biology. These kind of symposia are usually organized once or twice a year by members of the Georg-Speyer-Haus, and comprise an important cornerstone of the Institute’s endeavors. They are open to all interested researchers, and represent an excellent opportunity to foster the exchange of scientific ideas and to build national and international networks. On May 24th 2013, the Georg-Speyer-Haus organized the symposium "Gene Therapy: Viral Vector-based Medicines Come of Age" to honor Manuel Grez on the occasion of his 65th birthday. For many years, Manuel Grez’ commitment exemplified the outstanding scientific quality of gene therapy research at the Georg-Speyer-Haus. Undoubtedly, Manuel Grez is an internationally leading expert, who has made many crucial contributions to the development of gene therapy. Therefore, it is a great pleasure and a valuable benefit for the Georg-Speyer-Haus both personally as well as scientifically that Manuel Grez decided to continue his research in the coming years.

The Georg-Speyer-Haus is beginning a new phase with a scientific focus on the tumor microenvironment. This does not mean a complete change of the existing structure. Instead, this will be accomplished by the recruitment of excellent new groups that will be working on complementary topics. Undoubtedly, it will be a great challenge to lead this distinguished institute as successfully as my predecessors. However, I am very much looking forward to this new responsibility, and I am convinced that together with the support of all members of the institute this goal will be achieved.