Principal investigator, Group leader, Professor of Oncology
Akseli Hemminki received his PhD degree in cancer genetics in 1999 at the University of Helsinki. After three years spent in USA he returned to Finland in 2002 and started his own research group, Cancer Gene Therapy Group (CGTG). He specialized in Oncology and Radiotherapy in 2007. In 2015 Hemminki was nominated as a Professor of Oncology (Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation donation). In 2017 he received a tenured Professorship of Oncology in Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki.
From the beginning CGTG’s main research interest has been oncolytic adenoviruses which destroy cancer cells due to their natural ability to replicate in them, and use them for developing novel treatments for cancers that currently lack curative modalities. In 2007, Hemminki initiated the Advanced Therapy Access Program (ATAP), where 290 advanced cancer patients were treated with ten different oncolytic adenoviruses in an individualized patient-by-patient experimental therapy approach. When evidence of efficacy started emerging, Hemminki founded Oncos Therapeutics Ltd (currently Targovax ASA) to convert the approach to clinical trials.
Human data suggested that the main consequence of oncolysis is actually immune response, directed not only at the virus but also the tumor. Oncolysis can break immunological tolerance at tumors and induce adaptive responses. Particularly prominent is the effect on T-cells. With this information, Hemminki came up with the idea of using oncolytic virus for enhancing adoptive T-cell therapy. Also checkpoint inhibiting antibodies, which have led the mainstream field of immuno-oncology, are in essence T-cell therapy and can be enhanced with our approach. A patent was submitted and Hemminki’s second University spin-out company TILT Biotherapeutics Ltd was founded in April 2013 to support clinical translation, and the first clinical trial is now under way.
Hemminki has trained 35 students and 21 post-docs, and 25 PhD theses have been completed. He has published nearly 300 papers or book chapters on cancer research, treatment and especially oncolytic immunotherapy.
MD, PhD, Adjunct professor, Senior researcher
Anna Kanerva completed her PhD at CGTG in 2004 her thesis being the first one defended in CGTG history. Since then she has worked as a part-time senior researcher at CGTG. At the same time she has been specializing to obstetrics and gynecology and at the moment her main post is OB/GYN specialist at HUS.
PhD, Senior researcher
Suvi Sorsa (née Parviainen) completed her PhD thesis at the Cancer Gene Therapy Group in 2015 and has been working as a post-doctoral researcher in the group since then. In addition to her affiliation at CGTG, she is employed as Head of Clinical Research at TILT Biotherapeutics. Suvi is currently responsible for TILT´s clinical research and clinical sample analysis. She has been involved in the development of oncolytic viruses developed at CGTG at every level – from initial studies in mouse models, through regulatory review, and now translating the preclinical research into clinical development.
MD, PhD, post doc
Otto Hemminki worked as a PhD student at CGTG in 2007-2015. After defending his thesis he has being simultaneously contributing to CGTG research as a post doc and specializing in urology at HUS. He graduated as urologist in 2018.
MSc, Project coordinator
Minna Oksanen got her Master’s degree in University of Helsinki and graduated in 2001 with genetics as her major. She joined CGTG in 2008. She takes care of the administrative issues related to all our projects: she coordinates grant applications and reports, follows budgets and takes care of HR matters, communication, meeting arrangements etc., when needed. Sometimes she also contributes to publishing the research data. Since the re-organization of University of Helsinki administration in 2016, Minna has been part of Project coordination –team in University Services.
MPharm, PhD student
Víctor Cervera-Carrascón got his Master's degree in Pharmacy at Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). During his studies, he already got introduced to the field of oncoimmunology and oncolytic viruses during an Erasmus+ internship at University of Helsinki (Finland). After defending the Master's thesis in February 2016 he joined CGTG and TILT Biotherapeutics as a PhD candidate.
His research revolves around the idea that oncolytic viruses are an interesting tool to enable T-cell therapies, with a special focus on checkpoint inhibitors. As he is enrolled in an European Industrial Doctorate project (VIRION - Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions), he is taking advantage on understanding the links between Academia-Industry-Clinic.
MSc, PhD student
Riikka Havunen works at CGTG as a PhD student investigating oncolytic adenoviruses coding for immunostimulatory cytokines as enablers of T cell therapies. The aim is to study the effects of the viruses on immune system and tumor microenvironment. Riikka graduated as Master of Science from the University of Jyväskylä in 2012, having cell and molecular biology as major. After graduation, Riikka spent two years in the field of cancer research at the University of Tampere. Being interested in translational research, Riikka joined CGTG in 2014 and is now finalizing her studies and planning to defend by the end of 2018.
MSc, PhD student
Camilla Heiniö has a master's degree in microbiology, with a specialization option in virology. She has a strong background in molecular virology. Before starting her post-graduate studies at CGTG in 2017, she isolated and characterized archaeal viruses. Today, her research focuses on the effects of a cytokine armed oncolytic adenovirus on danger and pathogen-associated signaling and the subsequent consequences the signaling cascades has on the tumor microenvironment. Additionally, the effects of virus-encoded cytokines on the tumor vasculature is investigated in her work.
MSc, PhD student
Emma Kutvonen started at CGTG in March 2018. Her work focuses on an oncolytic virus producing interleukin 8 –inhibiting antibody. We have found high interleukin 8 levels to be associated with poor prognosis in patients treated with oncolytic virus, which has raised a question of whether IL-8 can be targeted in order to improve the treatment outcome.
Emma studied genetics and cell biology at the University of Turku, with a special interest in oncology. Her past work experience includes drug discovery and development both in academic and industrial research projects.
MSc, PhD student
João Santos received his Master Degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Coimbra, Portugal with a thesis in gene-engineered T-cell production performed at the Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Shortly after, in 2016, he joined Cancer Gene Therapy Group and TILT Biotherapeutics as PhD student under a Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Industrial Doctorate program (VIRION consortium). His project focuses on understanding how oncolytic viruses can improve the efficacy and safety of different adoptive T-cell therapy strategies.
MSc, PhD student
Dafne Alves Quixabeira holds a Master in Pathology and a specialization in Clinical Cytology from the Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil. During this time, she was involved in projects comprising oncology, virology and tumor microenvironment areas. Beyond that, she volunteered for over than one year as a cytologist in a cancer prevention project.
At the end of 2017, she became part of CGTG group where she develops her doctoral studies since then. Her projects focus on the use of oncolytic adenoviruses coding for immune-modulators as an important therapeutic strategy for the treatment of solid cancers.
MSc, PhD student
Sadia Zafar holds MSc degree in Microbiology from Quiad-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. Sadia joined CGTG as a PhD student in June 2015. Her research focuses on the use of oncolytic adenovirus 3 coding for CD40L as an enabler of dendritic cell therapy. The aim is to study the effect of CD40L armed adenovirus 3 on the immune system and tumor microenvironment. Before joining CGTG, she worked at the department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Turku.
MSc, Laboratory Manager and Research assistant
Susanna Grönberg-Vähä-Koskela joined the group in 2011 and currently works as a Lab Manager in CGTG. She earned her Master´s degree (MSc) in Biochemistry from Åbo Akademi University in Turku and has since then worked in Åbo Akademi, the National Public Health Institute of Finland (Kansanterveyslaitos) in Turku and the Children´s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, Canada before joining CGTG. Susanna takes care of common things making sure that everything runs smoothly in the lab and participates in different research projects. The laboratory techniques she is mainly involved in include such molecular biology techniques as cell culture, cloning, transfections, virus preps and PCR.
Previous lab members and their subsequent employers:
- Marko Ahonen, DMD, Oma Hammaslääkärisi, Hämeenlinna
- Laura Ahtiainen, PhD, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki
- Karoliina Autio, DVM, PhD, Eläinlääkäriasema Animagi
- Simona Bramante, MSc, Research Programs Unit, University of Helsinki
- Gerd Bauerschmitz, MD, PhD, University of Düsseldorf, Germany
- Vincenzo Cerullo, Adjunct Professor in experimental virology, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki
- Iulia Diaconu, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine, USA
- João Dias, PhD, Alcimed, Lausanne, Switzerland
- Minna Eriksson, PhD, Finnish National Bureau of Investigation
- Sophie Escutenaire, PhD, adjunct professor, Pieneläinklinikka Tuhatjalka, Finland
- Kilian Guse, PhD, Genequine Biotherapeutics, Germany
- Theresia Gutmann, Dipl.-Biol., Paul-Langerhans-Institut, Dresden, Germany
- Elina Haavisto, MSc, Oncos Therapeutics
- Tanja Hakkarainen, PhD, IP Finland Ltd.
- Päivi Hannuksela, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki
- Mari Hirvinen, MSc, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki
- Sirkka-Liisa Holm, HUS
- Saija Kaikkonen, Finvector Vision Therapies Ltd.
- Aila Karioja-Kallio, Oncos Therapeutics
- Eerika Karli
- Åse Karttunen, HUS
- Harri Katajamäki, MSc, HUSLAB
- Anniina Koski-Palkén, MD, PhD, HUS
- Sergio Lavilla-Alonso, PharmD, Department of Virology, University of Helsinki
- Joonas Lehikoinen, medical student, MD studies
- Ilkka Liikanen, PhD, University of California San Diego
- Federica Madarena, MSc, Universitätsklinikum Jena, Germany
- Maiju Merisalo-Soikkeli
- Eleonora Munaro
- Petri Nokisalmi, PhD, Lahti Hospital, Finland
- Saila Pesonen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
- Sari Pesonen, PhD, Oncos Therapeutics
- Tommi Pisto, MSc, VTT Medical Biotechnology
- Maria Rajecki, MD, PhD, HUS
- Mari Raki, PhD, Centre for Drug Research, Faculty of Pharmacy
- Tuuli Ranki, PhD, Oncos Therapeutics
- Camilla Ribacka, PhD, Novia University of Applied Sciences
- Valentina Romano, MSc, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnoloy, Trieste, Italy
- Dipongkor Saha, PhD, University of Harvard, USA
- Kirsi Saukkonen, PhD, Roche
- Paula Savola, medical student, MD studies
- Marta Sloniecka, MSc, Umeå University, Sweden
- Merja Särkioja, PhD, FIMM
- Mikko Siurala, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, USA
- Kristian Taipale, BM, PhD
- Markus Teittinen, Red Cross Finland
- Topi Turunen, medical student, MD studies
- Siri Tähtinen, MSc, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki
- Matteo Ugolini, MSc, University of Bergen, Norway
- Lotta Vassilev, PhD, Oncos Therapeutics
- Markus Vähä-Koskela, PhD, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki