Our website uses cookies. We use cookies to remember settings and to help provide you with the best experience we can. We also use cookies to continuously improve our website by compiling visitor statistics. Read more about cookies

CAR-T expert joins the Máxima to boost immunotherapy for children with cancer

Prof. dr. Claudia Rössig was part of the team that conducted the first-in-child CAR T-cell study, pioneering this novel immunotherapy for childhood cancer. She has devoted her career to developing CAR-T cell therapy further for children with cancer. She has joined the Princess Máxima Center as an associate group leader, alongside her main lab at the University of Münster, Germany. ‘I want to make sure that at the end of my career, more children with cancer will survive their disease than when I started.’

Powerful principle

Claudia Rössig knew she wanted to be a pediatrician even when she was a child herself. During her studies, she stepped onto a childhood cancer ward and knew she had found her path in life. ‘I wanted to make sure that at the end of my career, more children with cancer would survive their disease than when I started. I knew I’d need a scientific background to make that difference. Two years after starting as a clinician, I was in Houston making the first CAR T-cell against a childhood cancer. I saw in the lab how engineered immune cells can specifically eliminate the cancer cells, and as a pediatrician how T-cells can protect us lifelong against dangerous viruses – it is such a powerful principle. That’s what first attracted me to CAR-T cell therapy, and I’ve never stopped working on it.’


More than twenty years later, CAR-T cell therapy has revolutionized care for children with the blood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Rössig: ‘As a pediatric oncologist, I can now tell a child with ALL whose cancer has come back, even more than once after chemotherapy or stem cell transplant, that there is new hope. Four out of ten children who used to die after conventional therapies stopped working are now cured thanks to CAR-T cell therapy. And that’s just the beginning – we’re working towards a way to treat children with this form of immunotherapy earlier after diagnosis, so we can avoid the most toxic therapies and their late effects.’

Solid tumors

Rössig’s work on CAR-T cell therapy started with neuroblastoma, a childhood tumor of developing cells of the nervous system found in many areas of the body. Her research is now coming full circle, back to solid tumors. She says: ‘Since the first lab studies into CAR-T cell therapy, we have come to a much better understanding of why it didn’t work well in children with solid tumors, as opposed to blood cancers. We have also learned how best to prepare children for the treatment. As a result, we’re now seeing promising early results in children with neuroblastoma, sarcoma and brain tumors. This raises the hope that we’re ready to bring the pieces of the puzzle together, and make CAR-T cell therapy work in children with solid tumors. That’s what I’m looking at with my group at the University of Münster, and will also be the focus of the research group I’m setting up at the Princess Máxima Center. At the same time, we have started preparing clinical trials with novel CAR T-cell therapies to offer to the children treated at the Máxima.’


Rössig has more than twenty years’ experience in developing CAR T-cells. The knowledge she has gained will be a valuable addition to the Cell Therapy Facility that is being built in the Máxima. ‘Advancing CAR-T cells is not easy, and the path from the new idea to proving the therapy works can be long. I can bring my experience and knowledge, for example in the technologies needed to edit the T-cells.’

In joining the Máxima, Rössig sees opportunities to make an impact on a European and global level. ‘The scale of the Máxima is much larger than most other childhood cancer centers. That ensures rapid recruitment into clinical trials even for rare cancers. The Trial and Data Center provides a fantastic infrastructure for carrying out international clinical trials, even for complex new therapeutics. It’s a real strength that the Máxima sees itself as a hub that brings childhood cancer expertise in Europe together.’

Rössig joins a large number of experts already working on CAR T-cells and other immunotherapies for childhood cancer at the Máxima. She is looking to develop collaborations with colleagues in the Cell Therapy Facility, as well as other research group leaders in areas such as the biology of tissue surrounding the tumor and protein engineering. ‘Everyone at the Máxima is enthusiastic about our plans to strengthen the T-cell therapy field. We’re still at the beginning, but it looks like major advances for children with cancer in the next ten years will come from cellular immunotherapy. It’s really exciting to have joined the Máxima and to move the field forward together.’