Inspiring Scientists Making a Difference: Sylvain Thierry

Diving deep into immuno-oncology mechanisms with multi-parametric research

“I really like to be at this point in research, translating science from the lab to the clinic.”

Sylvain Thierry, PhD

Head of Translational Research, Tollys

“Immuno-oncology has changed the world in terms of cancer therapies.”

Sylvain loves hands-on work, whether it is in immunology research or his hobby of wood and leather working. His work is a combination of immuno-oncology, immuno-virology, and applied pharmacology. Currently he is working on RNAs TLR3 agonists as anti-tumor molecules. Also, developing translational research using in vivo, in vitro, and ex vivo models so these drug candidates could reach translational research. Ability of translational research to produce patient centric results is what drives Sylvain.

“I really like to be at this point in research, translating science from the lab to the clinic.”
Sylvain Thierry

Dream of seeing one of the drug candidates go through clinical trials to enter the market and helping cancer patients keeps Sylvain motivated. He has been in applied biology research for about 20 years and in the last 7–8 years specifically in immuno-oncology. It was during his first post-doc, working on HMGB1, he realized that he wanted to pursue immunology research going forward. According to him, immunotherapies have had a huge impact on cancer research globally. One unique aspect of Sylvain’s research is the amount of time they take to observe the effects of potential drug molecules or vaccines on the tumors for translational studies. This takes years. However, when a molecule has desired effect on the target tumor or sometimes even on unintended type of tumor, it fills him with pride. Another exciting part of his research entails working ex vivo on freshly resected patient tumors. This allows him to see the direct effect of the drug molecules on humans, not just animal models.

He jokingly but aptly describes major challenges in immunology as, “the challenge in immunology is that it’s immunology.” Meaning that there are multiple types of compounds, such as cytokines, soluble factors, and cells like dendritic cells, tumor cells, etc. which go together involving various mechanisms of actions. Referring specifically to his research, he reveals that navigating through variety of mechanisms of actions in in vivo as well as ex vivo models is challenging but fascinating. A potential solution to these challenges, according to Sylvain, could be large multi-parametric studies generating more quality data.

Ex vivo patient studies in immuno-oncology come with an inherent challenge of limited patients and samples. But having access to instruments such as Luminex instrument with Invitrogen ProcartaPlex immunoassays is helpful. Sylvain was able to analyze 55 cytokines together using ProcartaPlex immunoassays. Not only that, but the results from he also studies help with understanding kinetics. They were able to demonstrate the differences in signatures of certain cytokines and chemokines in plasma and tumor interstitial fluids. This leads to better understanding of mechanism of actions for their potential drug molecules. It also helped them observe biomarkers for efficacy in patients and tolerance of treatment. Referring to a recent scientific conference he presented at, he mentions,

“The results from ProcartaPlex immunoassays really made the difference within the scientific world.”

Tools that provide more information with limited samples are beneficial in finding required biomarkers for Sylvain’s work. Be it in multi-parametric immunoassays or flow cytometry experiments. Developments in tools and technologies have enabled them to perform certain physiological studies on patient samples, which were only possible on cell lines years ago.

Being a part of smaller team for discovery and translation research Sylvain does not have a fixed routine. His days are filled with numerous in vivo and ex vivo experiments. Discovering the exact mechanism of action for cells or compounds is the hardest part of his job. Tools with wider linear ranges are valuable in efforts for discovery. He goes on to say that “I tried a lot of immunoassays, but ProcartaPlex immunoassays are the best ones with a good dynamic range.”

The biggest breakthrough, according to Sylvain, in science in the past decade was that Immunology changed science and cancer treatments with all the immunological treatments we have seen. Now, RNA-based compounds are doing the same kind of revolution with vaccinations against infections such as COVID-19 and now against cancers.

Sylvain envisions—rather dreams—of immuno-oncology treatments where not only a fraction, but all patients are completely responsive and benefitted. Technological innovation in immunology techniques have significantly reduced the time required to obtain the results. For example, a few years ago, experiments with 2D gels followed by mass spectrometry took weeks, but the same results can be obtained within days using modern tools.

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