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Complete support and freedom: Dr Sergio Quezada on the benefits of a CRUK fellowship

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

21 March 2017

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Dr Sergio Quezada

Dr Sergio Quezada has a growing worldwide reputation for his cellular and molecular work in the field of immunotherapy. Here he talks about the importance of the support he has received from CRUK, first as a Career Development Fellow and now as a Senior Cancer Research Fellow.

“My passion for working on cancer research to achieve real clinical impact was sparked as a postdoc at the Memorial Cancer Center, New York. At that time I was collaborating with a clinician scientist from the UK, Professor Karl Peggs, and though I already had a couple of job offers in the US, he encouraged me to consider the UK.

I knew that to make the move I would need a suitable grant in place, and the Career Development Fellowship looked really appealing. Six years of funding offered the security to follow my own path of research and really have that take off. My daughter was born at the time of doing applications, so I only had time to apply for one fellowship. I decided CRUK was the best option; it looked better than anything else in terms of the timespan, the level of funding, and the support network.

I can now say it was definitely the best decision I ever made. From the very beginning CRUK really takes care of you. The amazing community of scientists, collaborators, and support it offers seems unmatched to me.

The fellowship gave me the chance to innovate, explore my research and take it in new directions. I believe the best scientific results come from having that flexibility.

I was supported even from an early stage with access to top scientists across the country, which had an invaluable impact on my research. I work at University College London Cancer Institute, and the clinical network that I’m part of is just incredible. I’ve been able to establish hugely significant collaborations with excellent researchers from across the UK, as well as continuing my close work with Karl.

A few years ago I started exploring a new avenue, engineering antibodies. I wondered if I could apply

for a grant to further this, and had a meeting with CRUK. They were very receptive and I secured a Programme Award to develop antibodies that activate the immune response to cancer. We have already identified a couple of new antibodies and one of them will be taken forward for clinical development.

This is exactly where I wanted to be – using science to achieve real clinical impact.

The charity is also very supportive in terms of helping with the intellectual property and patents.

In another exciting development, CRUK is investing in our new commercial endeavour. We have been able to demonstrate that specific types of mutation, truncal mutations, are present in every single tumour cell, but not healthy cells. We’re now working out how to get the immune system to target these truncal mutations, to develop immunotherapies that will be more specific and more powerful.

We’ve set up a company to do this, Achilles Therapeutics, and CRUK is one of the initial funders that have helped launch it.

This year I was awarded a Senior Cancer Research Fellowship, to pursue my work in lung cancer. These fellowships are very different to funding just for a specific piece of research or a specific person. They allow you to build a team that all start at the same time, hiring postdocs and technicians, and building that team over the long-term, giving continuity to the whole research group.

None of this would have been possible without that first fellowship. It allowed me to settle in the UK and establish myself, with the six years of absolute support and freedom that produced real results. I’m so impressed with the charity, and with its whole set-up – how it’s funded by the public, with everyone chipping in, and some amazing fundraising efforts that contribute to a real sense of community. It’s unique, and I’ve become very attached to CRUK. They have given me a level of support and funding that means I am achieving everything I ever wanted to do.”

Profile: Dr Sergio Quezada

Originally from Chile, Sergio completed his PhD at Dartmouth, New Hampshire, before working as a postdoc at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York. He then moved to the UK and has been supported by Cancer Research UK from his initial Career Development Fellowship at University College London, to a recently awarded Senior Cancer Research Fellowship.

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