Interview with Dr. David Saliba from the University of Malta about research at the International Center for Cancer Vaccine Science.
- What is your research conducted at ICCVS about?
In the last twenty years the resurgence of immunotherapies has revolutionised our approach to cancer treatment. Immunotherapy is centred around harnessing the patient’s own anti-tumour immune response to eliminate cancerous cells. Some cancer cells, however, switch off immune anti-tumour activity and multiply uncontrollably. It is therefore imperative to develop new tools that can be applied in the field of cancer immunotherapy. In this respect, I am pleased to have been awarded a University of Malta SEA-EU Research Seed Fund for €4000 to team up with Dr. Małgorzata Lisowska and Prof. Ted Hupp to investigate novel cancer immunotherapeutic targets. In addition we have also been awarded €150,000 funding by the Malta Council of Science and Technology Infectious Disease Programme-2021 to develop therapeutic strategies for viral infections.
- Why did you choose the ICCVS to conduct your research?
I was in touch with Prof. Hupp in August 2020 who informed me about the set up of ICCVS so I was immediately eager to collaborate with scientists at the centre with whom I share common research interests. When choosing the best method for developing novel cancer immunotherapeutic treatments we reviewed the international best practices, taking into account cost, potential risks and time constraints. Dr. Lisowska and Ms. Zuzanna Trybała are key research scientists at ICCVS that have set up a system called Phage Display for developing antibodies against novel immune targets. The inventors of the Phage display technique were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 so this highlights the cutting edge research performed at ICCVS.
- How would you rate your collaboration with ICCVS scientists?
I have been lucky to follow all research projects in the engaging weekly Journal Club and Result presentation seminars organised by Dr. Umesh Kalathiya. ICCVS scientists are working using cutting edge techniques and are approaching various aspects of tumour biology research in a concerted and focused way. I am sure that the future bodes well for the intelligent and hard working ICCVS scientists and I am grateful and pleased to contribute to the team.
- Are there any effects of this cooperation? Will there be any repercussions? Further cooperation?
Having spent a month at ICCVS in charming Gdansk has definitely opened up a multitude of collaborative opportunities between the University of Malta and ICCVS. Consistent with our common research goals, we will be applying for EU-wide and national grants to further these. I definitely look forward to collaborating with the research groups led by Prof Natalia Marek-Trzonkowska, Dr Sachin Kote, Dr Javier Alfaro and researchers such as Dr Alicja Sznarkowska.
- What kind of research will you conduct within the UM SEA-EU Research Seed Fund award?
The research is centred around the cutting edge Phage display technology to develop therapeutic antibodies against novel immune targets. This fund will act as a catalyst to develop a flexible platform that is applicable to innovative biomedical research.
- You have spent almost a month in Gdańsk. What is your impression about the city? What do you like most here?
Gdansk is a vibrant city and the people are very welcoming. I have enjoyed the outdoors through kayaking and walking around the cobbled streets of the city centre. I have been most impressed with the European Solidarity Centre and the Museum of the Second World War. The European Solidarity Centre certainly demonstrates how people of different backgrounds can come together in the spirit of solidarity and collaboration without boundaries.
- What is important in SEA-EU collaboration from your perspective?
People! Scientific research is hard and many times frustrating. By sharing our ideas and discussing scientific problems we will certainly achieve our goals faster.
My eagerness to further my career as a research scientist has led me to complementing my research endeavours with the latest technological advancements in the fields of molecular biology and immunology. After reading for a PhD from the University of Edinburgh I worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the field of Inflammation and Immunity at Imperial College London (5 years) and University of Oxford (4 years). I also hold an honorary position as Research Fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, University of Oxford. As a postdoctoral researcher I published several high impact, peer reviewed papers in journals including Nature, Cell Reports, Blood, PNAS and eLife, receiving over 900 citations in the field of immunology. I participated in EU-funded projects through European Research Council Advanced Grant (ERC-AdG), Seventh Framework Program (FP7), Human Frontier Science Project (HFSP) and Medical Research Council (MRC) grants. In the field of virology related research, I also collaborated with the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology & Immunogen Discovery consortium. I have been recently awarded an Emanuele Cancer Research Fund to investigate the role of immune cells in Pituitary Neuroendocrine tumours. Together with his collaborators at Imperial College, has also successfully applied and published a US patent application on inhibitors that modulate key regulators of the immune system.