Cancer won't have a single solution, so Ludwig's dedication to life-changing science takes many forms. In individual laboratories or as international teams, our scientists are working the problem from every angle, seeking to unravel the basic biological underpinnings of cancers. At Ludwig, discovery is just the beginning of the journey to improved human health.
Ludwig gives the world's leading scientists the resources and the freedom to pursue discoveries at every step from the laboratory to the clinic. Our researchers don't follow the crowd; they follow their instincts and the evidence toward breakthroughs that will change our understanding of the origins and behavior of cancer.
Intervening effectively in cancer requires understanding how normal cells function and how cancer cells are different. For example, how cells divide and transmit genetic material from a parent cell to daughter cells is not only essential for human life, but also might present opportunities for selectively killing cancer cells.
Our scientists are examining the fundamental biological mechanisms of all cells, using a variety of model systems. That knowledge is then used to better understand these processes in people, with an emphasis on uncovering new strategies to fight cancer. Even as previous findings are being tested in cancer patients, these discoveries could one day generate new interventions to complement those already developed.
A critical component of Ludwig's discovery-to-development research is conducting clinical research and human clinical trials. Such trials are essential to improve our understanding of cancers and their potential vulnerabilities so we can develop new and more effective interventions.
Ludwig directly sponsors—and Ludwig investigators lead—clinical trials. We also go a step further: Our clinical trials team has scientific expertise in all aspects of clinical trials management, from study design to managing multicenter studies, from analysis of data and interpretation of results to the design of potential next phases. Our internationally recognized clinical team has wide-ranging partnerships with universities, institutes, not-for-profit research foundations, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
Dynamic changes in the genome underlie the development and progression of all cancers. These disruptive changes can be as small as a single nucleotide or as large as entire chromosome regions. Chemical modifications also can profoundly alter genomic and, ultimately, cellular functions. Most often a multitude of such changes contribute to cancer. At Ludwig our researchers have performed groundbreaking studies of genomic alterations to learn how these changes drive cancer and to develop methods to target them as way to control cancer.
As cancers develop and progress, they produce altered biomolecules such as proteins that are recognized by the immune system as foreign. Ludwig scientists have pioneered ways to enhance the natural ability of the immune system to block cancer development—a strategy increasingly seen as a key component to stopping cancers. One vital approach to this effort is understanding—and learning to intervene in—the cross-talk where the host seeks to eliminate a cancer and the cancer tries to evade the immune response.
Ludwig scientists continue to study the basic mechanisms of the immune response, and how to improve it. We have conducted numerous clinical trials aimed at enhancing the immune response, with single methods and in combination with other approaches.
Cancers of the brain take many forms, some them especially deadly. Even those that are benign and do not spread can disrupt normal brain functions and cause health problems. Ludwig scientists are intensely studying this special class of cancers, analyzing the genomic changes associated with its forms and developing new approaches for critically needed treatment. For example, Ludwig researchers first identified and studied an important component of signaling in brain cancers (a receptor called EGFRvIII) and developed an intervention strategy, now in clinical testing, that takes advantage of a particular alteration of that receptor. Today, Ludwig scientists are building on that initial discovery to develop combination therapies designed to achieve enhanced tumor responses.
Other Ludwig scientists are dedicated to understanding the basic cellular aspects of the human brain, studying conditions such as ALS and Huntington’s that result from genetic alterations. These studies not only provide insight into those diseases, but also inform how we might better confront brain cancers and develop new ways to deliver precisely targeted therapies.
Among the ways cells can respond to their environment are signals that start at the cell surface and are transmitted along specific pathways to direct a response in another cell. Sometimes these pathways become aberrant, and cells no longer respond to signals that would normally trigger stop signs, or they simply ignore those stop signs. That is, the gas pedal can remain down at all times, or the brakes fail to work. In either case, cancer cells can start growing unchecked.
Inactivating signaling pathways that remain on at inappropriate times and restoring normal controls has been an important element in understanding how cancer cells grow. Ludwig scientists have played major roles in discovering many of the genes and proteins that control signaling and have developed important components of the fight against cancer, such as the use of Gleevec for gastrointestinal stromal tumors.
Over the past decade, Ludwig scientists have played key roles in a seminal finding—the growing understanding that perhaps all cancers include stem cells, capable of self-renewal and the generation of new tumors. A series of studies in blood cancers first revealed the presence of cancer stem cells, and now Ludwig investigators are seeking stem cells in solid tumors.
Understanding how these cells facilitate the generation of new tumors is critical to developing effective strategies to prevent tumor formation. Ludwig scientists are studying such cells in a variety of cancers, from brain to ovary to melanoma, with a particular focus on discovering the role of these cells in recurring tumors or those that resist treatment.
Ultimately, Ludwig Research is measured by altering the course of cancer in people. An important component of our commitment to cancer research is developing and clinically testing therapeutic agents that derive from our basic research. We are widely recognized for our pioneering research to understand and enhance the immune response to cancer, such as through the development of cancer vaccines. Our scientists also have played major roles in discovering and developing new treatment approaches based on producing monoclonal antibodies that target the cellular receptors that guide transduction of signals essential for cancer development. Most recently, we have enhanced our capability to develop small molecules as research tools and potential drugs.
Tumors are highly complex populations of cells, each potentially stimulating or repressing cancer. For example, some cells provide the vasculature needed for most tumors to grow, while others make up immune components. Our scientists are uncovering specific aspects of particular cells and how their combined activities affect cancer development. We believe that effective long-term cancer management will require targeting the activities of these supporting cells, as well as the cancerous ones. We aim to develop new interventions through understanding the interplay of different types of cells and the mechanisms that enable this complex biology.