The Helmholtz Alliance on Immunotherapy of Cancer

Fighting cancer with immunological research

Researchers in the Helmholtz Alliance on Immunotherapy of Cancer are seeking to develop new strategies for treating cancer.

By analysing the mechanisms of a specific immune reaction, they hope to open up new treatment approaches for advanced-stage cancer.

  • Duration: January 2008 to December 2012
  • Total funding: €18.75 million
  • Lead centre: German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)
  • Spokesperson: Prof. Peter H. Krammer
  • Participating Helmholtz Centres: German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research
  • Translational centres: National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, Twincore Centre for Experimental and Clinical Infection Research in Braunschweig/Hannover, Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) in Berlin
  • Universities / hospitals: Heidelberg, LMU Munich, TU München, Hannover Medical School (MHH), Charité in Berlin, Medical Center Mannheim, University of Bonn, Universitätsklinikum Essen, Darmstadt Hospital
  • Businesses: Apogenix GmbH, Heidelberg


The Helmholtz Alliance on Immunotherapy of Cancer is developing ways of programming the immune system to specifically attack tumours. The research focuses on therapeutic antibodies, strategies for cancer vaccinations, transplantation of immune cells and methods of inducing programmed cell death in cancer cells. The immune system offers excellent weapons in this regard: antibodies and T-cell receptors are highly sensitive proteins that can pick out foreign target structures from millions of others. The aim of the research is to transfer therapeutic approaches into clinical applications.

The Alliance’s work focuses on skin cancer, hepatitis, liver tumours, leukaemia and lymphoma, each of which are representative of a different type of tumour disease. For example, liver cancer is often associated with a viral infection, making viral antigens on tumour cells suitable target structures for immunotherapy treatments. Leukaemia cells are particularly responsive to immunotherapeutic approaches. The Alliance also uses melanomas as a model for investigating solid, non-viral tumours, the most frequently occurring type of tumour.

The Alliance has also set up a scholarship programme to give young doctors the opportunity to take time away from their clinical duties to gather experience in immunological research. Equally, the programme will allow young scientists involved in basic research to gain an insight into the clinical application of their work.

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  • Photo of Andreas Schulze
    • Andreas Schulze
    • Program Officer, Initiative and Networking Fund: Research cluster and strategic partnerships
      Helmholtz Association