With cancer remaining a major cause of morbidity and mortality within our society, and having accounted for 29% of all deaths in the Maltese Islands throughout 2020, a resurgence of immune system-based therapies in the treatment of cancer, marked by breakthroughs during research funded projects, is certainly welcome.
An institutional partnership established between a number of entities including the University of Malta’s Department of Applied Biomedical Science and the Centre for Molecular Medicine & Biobanking, as well as the International Centre for Cancer Vaccine Science, a joint unit established by the University of Gdansk in Poland and the University of Edinburgh in the UK, will enable Malta’s scientists to conduct more research on cancer immunotherapy and make more advancements in this area.
This will be possible thanks to a number of interdisciplinary training opportunities and ERASMUS exchanges, as well as joint development projects and study programmes and cooperation in research activities, exchange in research material, and the organisation of seminars and meetings.
Dr David Saliba, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Applied Biomedical Science, who was instrumental in establishing this partnership, remarked that 2021 is a year marked by breakthroughs in international, collaborative vaccine developments. “Malta’s scientists have much to offer, and this collaboration will give them the opportunity to participate in academic exchanges and be part of cutting-edge research, while opening their doors to securing competitive research grants”.
Prof. Ted Hupp, the Director of the International Centre for Cancer Vaccine Science, said he is looking forward to the expertise and valid contributions by Malta’s scientists in this field, as there has already been a lot of interest and commitment shown from their side. Although this is just one step in the global vision to drive translational clinical developments and commercialisation, it is a vital one as the human resources are the most precious resource needed to make these advancements.
Cancer immunotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses the power of the patient’s own immune system to prevent, control and eliminate cancer. Novel immunotherapies to treat a variety of cancers have received a go-ahead only after years of research and testing designed to demonstrate their effectiveness. Current efforts by the international research community indicate that immunotherapy holds the potential to become more precise, personalised, effective and with fewer side effects than current chemotherapy.
Rector of the University of Malta, Prof. Alfred J. Vella, called this an important step in fostering research collaboration in the fields of cancer Immunology and cancer vaccine science, which can ultimately revolutionise cancer treatment.
The University of Malta and the University of Gdansk are also cooperating through the SEA-EU initiative, an alliance of 6 universities and associated partners working together to establish a distinctly international, pluri-ethnic, multilingual and interdisciplinary European University.
In related news on the collaborative aspect to this partnership, Minister for Research, Innovation and the Coordination of post-COVID-19 Strategy, Hon. Owen Bonnici reiterated that science holds the answers to many questions facing humanity, with the treatment of cancer being one of them, and that these answers are found if the talent of researchers at universities across the world is nurtured.
In her concluding remarks, Malta's Minister for Education, Hon. Justyne Caruana said that despite the physical distance, the shared sentiment of collaboration between the universities is strong. She maintained that this event is important for many reasons, namely because it helps put Malta on the research map even further, because the subject matter, cancer, is an experience of hardship for not just patients but also their loved ones and it is our shared duty to help alleviate this, and in terms of it being in line with the government's efforts to encourage more individuals to study STEM subjects.