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Akseli Hemminki, PI

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 41 students and 24 post-docs, and 30 PhD theses have been completed. He has published over 300 papers or book chapters on cancer research, treatment and especially oncolytic immunotherapy.

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Anna Kanerva

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.

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Suvi Sorsa

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 senior researcher in the group since then. In addition to her affiliation at CGTG, she is employed as Head of Clinical Affairs at TILT Biotherapeutics. 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.

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Riikka Havunen

PhD, Senior Researcher

Riikka Havunen joined CGTG in 2014, jumping into a project where an oncolytic adenovirus was developed and characterized for its functionality as an enabler of T-cell therapies. Riikka completed her PhD dissertation at the CGTG in 2018. While remaining as a senior researcher/advisor in the group, she is currently working at TILT Biotherapeutics – a CGTG spin-off company – managing projects related to virus production and quality control and the company’s quality management system.

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João Santos

PhD, Senior researcher

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. Joao defended his PhD thesis successfully in Oct 2020 and he continues now in CGTG as a senior researcher.

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Víctor Cervera-Carrascón

PhD, Senior researcher

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. He defended his PhD thesis successfully in Feb 2021 and he continues now as a senior researcher in CGTG.

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.

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Dafne Quixabeira

PhD, senior researcher

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 developed her doctoral studies until she defended her PhD thesis in August 2023. Her projects focused on the use of oncolytic adenoviruses coding for immune-modulators as an important therapeutic strategy for the treatment of solid cancers. She continues now as a senior researcher at CGTG.

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Minna Oksanen

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.

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Susanna Grönberg-Vähä-Koskela

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.

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Sini Raatikainen

MSc, Bioanalyst

Sini received her Master’s Degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Eastern Finland. Sini has been working in research in University of Helsinki since 2020 and CGTG forces she joined in 2022. Her job at CGTG consists of various laboratory work and tasks related to the research groups daily functions.

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Victor Arias

MSc, PhD Student

Victor holds a BSc in Biotechnology and a MSc in Translational Biomedical Research from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain), where he could learn the properties of molecular biology and specialize in its application in the biomedicine field.

Victor has always been interested in the understanding and development of alternative treatments, with special curiosity in gene therapy and immunotherapy strategies. Indeed, during his master thesis, he was able to get introduced into the world of oncolytic adenoviruses, being fascinated with this scope inside the oncoimmunology scenario.

Pursuing this dream of expanding his knowledge in this field, he joined CGTG as a PhD Student in 2022. His research projects focus on using cytokines armed adenoviruses and combinational strategies to improve current immunotherapies.

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Saru Basnet

MSc, PhD student

Molecular biosciences have always fascinated Saru Basnet. She has graduated from the University of Eastern Finland with a degree in Molecular Medicine and Genetics. Ever since she had been briefly introduced to the field of cancer studies during her master’s degree, she has been very passionate about cancer research and desired to learn and understand more about it. Eventually, Saru Basnet is a doctoral student at CGTG, specializing in Cancer research. Her research is focused on the oncolytic adenoviral vector encoding a bispecific monoclonal antibody in combination with adoptive T- cell therapies.

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James Clubb

MSc, PhD student

James Clubb received his Masters Degree in Biomaterials & Tissue Engineering from University College London where he completed his research project at the School of Pharmacy in the department of Pharmaceutics. During this time, he became interested in cell and gene therapies which led him to a pursue a role at a startup specializing in generating iPSC derived hematopoietic cells for transfusion medicine in addition to developing a metabolic drug discovery program.

Having wrapped up these projects, in 2019, he joined the Cancer Gene Therapy Group and TILT Biotherapeutics as a PhD student under a Marie-Sklodowska-Curie European Industrial Doctorate program (STACCATO). His project utilizes in vivo models to explore how oncolytic adenoviruses coding immune-modulators can be used to overcome resistance to checkpoint inhibitors in Squamos Cell Carcinomas of the Head and Neck.

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Lyna Haybout

MD, PhD student

Lyna Haybout has graduated in 2018 as a Medical Doctor, pursuing advancement in Internal Medicine with an interest and expertise in patient-centred clinical care. Adopting more focus on disease-specific customized approaches while pursuing advanced therapies for patients with haematological and oncological disorders in the daily practice in the hospitals in which she worked in, she developed her interest in clinical research that ensure comprehensive patient safety and quality of care.

Since early 2022, she joined CGTG to pursue doctoral studies in Clinical Research, where the main pursuit is to expand knowledge in tumour targeting and immunomodulatory cancer therapies, investigate optimal methods of delivery of oncolytic viruses, and harness various immuno-pathological pathways to provide durable and efficacious delivery approaches.

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Mirte van der Heijden

MSc, PhD student

Mirte received her master´s degree in the Netherlands at the Leiden University. She did a master thesis in oncolytic viruses and was so excited about this topic that she wanted to continue with this during a PhD. She started her PhD in 2023 and she is investigating how the microbiome affects oncolytic viral therapy.  

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Elise Jirovec

MSc, PhD student

Elise Jirovec received a joint Master’s Degree in Innovative Medicine from the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, and Heidelberg University, Germany. She was first introduced to oncolytic viruses during her Bachelor’s thesis and has had a keen interest in this field since then. Throughout her studies, she pursued projects in the fields of oncology, virotherapy, and molecular virology.

She joined the Cancer Gene Therapy Group as a PhD student in 2022. Her research is focused on oncolytic adenoviruses encoding immunomodulators in combination with immunotherapeutics and chemotherapeutics.    

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Tatiana Kudling

MSc, PhD student

Tatiana received her Master Degree in molecular biotechnology at the St. Petersburg State Technological Institute, Russia with a thesis in the investigation of new adjuvants for vaccination. She has a strong background in molecular biology and she is a co-author of several patents related to recombinant antibodies and immunostimulatory cytokines production. Tatiana joined CGTG as a PhD student in 2019. Her research focuses on using cytokines armed adenoviruses to improve current immunotherapy strategies.

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Nea Ojala


Nea Ojala is a MD/PhD-student at the University of Helsinki and she joined CGTG in 2023. Prior to her medical studies, Nea received her Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from the University of Edinburgh. During her studies, she developed a strong interest for immunology, oncology, and virology, and became intrigued by the possible medical applications of viruses. Nea is keen to advance translational medicine and she joined CGTG to help discover and develop innovative ways to treat cancer. Her research is focused on oncolytic adenoviral vectors encoding for immunomodulators and combining them with existing and emerging treatments. 

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Santeri Pakola


Santeri Pakola is a MD/PhD-student at the University of Helsinki and he joined CGTG in 2020. Santeri has a keen interest in bringing treatments from the lab to benefit patients in the clinic, and solving problems encountered in the clinic with lab research. Santeri's research is focused on adenoviruses coding for immunomodulators, and combining them with immunotherapeutics and adaptive cell therapy.

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Lab alumni

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
  • Camilla Heiniö, MSc (will defend her PhD theses in Jan 2023), R.N. Medical Consultants Ltd.
  • Otto Hemminki, MD, PhD, HUS
  • 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
  • Emma Kutvonen, MSc, Liisa Kauppi's research group, University of Helsinki
  • Sergio Lavilla-Alonso, PharmD, Department of Virology, University of Helsinki
  • Joonas Lehikoinen, medical student, MD studies
  • Ilkka Liikanen, MD, PhD, University of California San Diego
  • Federica Madarena, MSc, Universitätsklinikum Jena, Germany
  • Maiju Merisalo-Soikkeli, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki
  • Eleonora Munaro, MSc, 99 Technologies, Italy
  • Petri Nokisalmi, MD, 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, MD, PhD, Deloitte
  • 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
  • Sadia Zafar, PhD, Ari Ristimäki's research group, University of Helsinki