Immunology is the study of all aspects of the immune system including its structure and function. Immunology studies disorders both of the immune system and which affect the immune system, such as infectious diseases. The BioAlps cluster includes some leading researchers, research institutes and companies that are moving these scientific areas into the future.
The subjects of fundamental immunology, immuno-pathology and clinical immunology are taught at undergraduate level at the University of Lausanne, while at post graduate level specialisations are available in immunology and allergology. Geneva University offers a Master degree in allergology, clinical immunology and transplantation immunology.
The Division of Immunology and Allergy at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) pursues activities in numerous fields including fundamental and clinical sciences, diagnostic laboratory and teaching, in close collaboration with the University of Lausanne Faculty of biology and medicine. The researchers in the faculty are working on HIV research, the physiopathology of septic shock, antibiotic resistance, cancer immunotherapy and the development of new vaccines.
The Swiss Vaccine Research Institute (SVRI) encompasses major facets of basic, clinical and translational research covering predominantly the three major infectious diseases: HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, as well as the emerging influenza pandemic threat. The SVRI is based on the partnership between six leading institutions, based in different parts of Switzerland:
1. Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV)
2. Université de Lausanne/Faculté de Biologie et de Médecine (UNIL/FBM)
3. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne
4. Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), Bellinzona
5. Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), Lausanne Branch, Epalinges
6. Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), Basel
These six institutions have a long tradition and a concentration of scientists in the fields of immunology, HIV, malaria, TB and cancer vaccine development, of virology and of adjuvant/delivery technology.
Animal health is at the centre of the work done by Bern University’s Institute of Veterinary Virology. The services of the institute include the diagnostics of viral diseases of cattle, horses and small ruminants whereby the institute focuses on bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) and lentivirus infections, as well as equine viral diseases. The Swiss reference centre for rabies (Swiss Rabies Center) is in charge of rabies diagnostics both in the veterinary and human sectors. The Swiss Rabies Center also cooperates with the neighbouring countries.
Geneva University’s Department of Pathology and Immunology conducts research into anatomical and clinical correlations in human pathology, and in the fields of cell biology, general immunology and immunopathology. Work on general immunology comprises the functional specificities in vivo of the T-lymphocyte subpopulations in a variety of experimental diseases. Researchers are also looking into the conditions of synthesis and the role of the interleukins secreted by lymphoid system cells in different experimental and pathological conditions.
Work in the field of immunopathology focuses on the cell interactions leading to the development of spontaneous or provoked auto-immune diseases; the role of specific interactions between immunoglobulin molecules in provoking vascular lesions caused by immune complexes; and the role of the immune response in the pathological symptoms of infectious diseases.
The Lausanne University Hospital immunology diagnostic laboratory is an ISO/CEI 17025 certified laboratory that serves both as a clinical laboratory and to confirm results obtained from research in other laboratories in Switzerland and abroad. Techniques used include molecular biology, cellular immunology and immuno-enzymatic testing.
The laboratory is active in researching improvements for HIV treatments, as well as confirming efficacy of viral hepatitis vaccines and carries out diagnostic testing for autoimmune diseases, monoclonal gammapathies (a group of related diseases characterized by an unbalanced or disproportionate proliferation of immunoglobulin-producing cells, usually from a single clone), inflammatory diseases and cellular immunology. It also participates in the development and evaluation of new technologies in collaboration with external partners.
Among the many companies active in the field of immunology, Anergis aims to develop and market new immunotherapy products for allergic patients. Anergis possesses a unique know-how and an exclusive license to the technology of Contiguous Overlapping Peptides (“COPs”) developed jointly by the University of Lausanne (UNIL), the EPFL and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV).
Ribovax, owned by the Tilocor Group, has developed two proprietary platforms in the field of antibody engineering. SEBVI™ is a process using Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) for the immortalisation and cloning of human B cells that secrete antibodies of the IgG isotype which is suitable for efficacious isolation of antibodies of specific isotypes. SEBVI™ also allows the direct screening for fully human monoclonal antibodies in biological assays of antibody-containing culture supernatants from EBV-transformed B cells. Phage Double Display (pDD) is a technology that allows the display of exogenous protein sequence in two distinct phage display formats.
The originality of AC Immune’s research and development strategy is due to its combination of both an immunology and a chemistry platform technology to develop innovative therapies against conformational diseases. One of the challenges of conformational diseases comes from the fact that the proteins that need to be targeted are “self” proteins, coming from our own organism, and they do not elicit an immune reaction from the body.
The difference between a “good” and a “bad” protein is typically only expressed by a conformational change in the protein structure. The immunological SupraAntigen™ Technology and the chemical Morphomer™ platform are designed to produce high affinity ligands, which bind specifically and with high affinity to proteins in “sick” conformations. Both platforms lead to new classes of therapies that “break” the pathological conformation of proteins by shifting the equilibrium via stabilization of the soluble form of the protein target and therefore render them harmless.
Berna Biotech, owned by Crucell, is leading the way in oral vaccines. Product pipeline programmes comprise vaccines against yellow fever, influenza, Ebola, malaria and tuberculosis, and protein products such as the rabies antibodies mix and blood coagulation factors. OM Pharma is a recognized authority in two product lines and research fields: synthetic (e.g. Doxium, Dicynone) and biotechnology products (e.g. Broncho-Vaxom, Uro-Vaxom). In view of its considerable expertise in the area, new product research is now concentrated on applied immunology.