Annual Symposium 2020-2021

Annual Symposium 2020-2021

This year the NVGCT Annual Symposium took place on November 9th and 10th 2021 at the conference center De Werelt in Lunteren. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing, this annual symposium took place 2,5 years after the previous one. A total of 20 scientific presentations on gene and cell therapy were given. In addition, this year we had a two presentations by the 2020 and 2021 recipients of the NVGCT Outstanding Achievement Award. Two prizes were awarded for the ESGCT best abstract award, the third edition of the ZonMw speed dating and the consolidated Greiner Award for the best thesis in 2019. There was also a special session for pitches from our sponsors, whose financial support made this symposium possible. 

We would like to thank our sponsors Greiner Bio-One, ZonMw, European Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ESGCT), Twist, Miltenyl Biotec, Lonza, MeiraGTx, Eurogentec, Tebu-Bio, Cryoport Systems and Propharma Group for their generous support.

The meeting was opened by our president Prof. Victor van Beusechem, who gave an update on the progress in the field, including several new gene therapy products in the market; or the vaccines for COVID19 that have boosted the field. In addition, there have been some developments in the legislation of GMO in the Netherlands.

The first scientific session was about genome editing. Several approaches were discussed: from inhibitors of Cas9, to encapsulation and delivery in nanoparticles or approaches aiming to correct disease-causing genetic defects. The session was followed by pitches and presentations of sponsors that contributed to and are essential for the success of the symposium. The ZonMw Young Investigator Speed Dating Challenge has become a very popular activity in which pairs of young researchers from different groups team up to develop a feasible research project in which their expertise will be combined. The winners of this Speed Dating Challenge will get a fund that can be spent to put this project into practice and to visit an international scientific meeting together. This year, there was a scientific match between 8 couples!

After lunch, we moved towards delivery and multiple therapeutic approaches. The first invited speaker of the symposium, Dr. Johan van der Plas, gave an update on the development of respiratory virus vaccines. In the same session we heard about extracellular vesicles and antisense oligonucleotides. The last session of the day was about Gene & Cell therapy and results on clinical trials for a gene therapy approach to treat a genetic liver disease by Prof. Piter Bosma and a cellular therapy for mitochondrial diseases by Dr. René de Coo were presented. These results showed that the field is moving fast. 

The 2021 NVGCT Outstanding Achievement Award was given to Prof. Annemieke Aartsma-Rus for her inspiring and enlightening work on the development of therapeutic approaches based on antisense technology for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

While the young investigators were working on their proposals, the members of the NVGCT attended to the general assembly. Before discussing the internal affairs of the society, we said goodbye and acknowledged the contribution of Prof. Piter Bosma, Prof. Gerard Wagemaker and Prof. Hidde Haisma, who left the board of the NVGCT. We would like to publicly thank them for their valuable contributions to the NVGCT society.

This year in the famous NVGCT pubquiz, five teams were competing for the victory. The team Simply the best ended 5th, followed by the Splice girls and Sinister 6 (4th and 3rd respectively). The silver medal went to Katy Perry and the winners of the pubquiz were #XY. Remarkably, it was brought to our attention that the president of the NVGCT has been in the winning team in the last 3 editions…

Team #XY

On the second day, the finalists of the Speed Dating Challenge were announced. This year the quality of the eight proposals was very high. Three couples with projects on viruses, nanoparticles and exosomes were selected to pitch their ideas during the second session of the Speed dating challenge.

The first session of the day was about Oncotherapy. During this session several PhD candidates presented their work on oncolytic viruses and other novel viral treatments to treat different types of cancer. In addition, the president of the NVGTC presented the results of the Phase I/II for prostate cancer. After this session, we had an update on the new regulations by Marco Gielkens form the Gene Therapy Office. In the last 2,5 years a lot has happened!    

This year the 2020-2021 Greiner award to the best thesis in the field defended in 2019 in the Netherlands was received by Dr. Muriël Messchaert who did her thesis at the Department of Human Genetics of the Radboudumc under the title “Insights into EYS-associated retinal dystrophies. From disease spectrum towards genetic therapy”.

And this award was followed by another one. Last year due to the pandemic, it was not possible to present the 2020 NVGCT Outstanding Achievement Award. The recipient of this award is Prof. Dirk Grimm for his impressive and exciting work on adeno-associated viruses (AAV) and how to improve them to increase the uptake by different tissues often not successfully targeted. We had the pleasure of having him in person and enjoy his live talk, adapted to the current times.

To finalize the Annual Symposium, the session on RNA-based therapies was held, mostly on antisense technology to organs that allow local delivery: the eye and the brain. Dr. Jim Swildens on behalf of ProQR was the invited speaker to present the results of Sepofarsen. In the same session Prof. Willeke van Roon-Mom discussed how these molecules can be used to correct defects in spinocerebellar ataxias.

To close the meeting, the exciting moment to reveal the winners of the ESGCT Best Abstract Presentation and the ZonMw Young Investigator Speed Date Challenge. The first was given to Selas Bots (LUMC) for her talk “new non-human primate adenoviruses for use as oncolytic agents”. The second prize was awarded to Dr. Irene Vázquez Domínguez (Radboudumc) and Marieke Roefs (UMC Utrecht) for their proposal exosomes and inherited retinal diseases. Congratulations to all these young researchers!

ZonMw Speed Date activity

Previous winner explaining her experience

Social activity: pubquiz

This summary was provided by Alex Garanto