Tumor Immunology & Immunotherapy Group

Principal Investigator

The immune system can recognize, hone in on and eliminate cancer. Through multiple mechanisms however, tumors can evade and dodge the immune response. Immunotherapies against cancer exploit the immune system to more effectively attack disease. Clinical studies have shown that immune checkpoint inhibitors and T cell-based therapies can mediate tumor regression in cancer patients with metastatic disease. Thus, in addition to surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, immunotherapy is increasingly representing the fourth pillar of anti-cancer therapy across a variety of tumor types.

Despite encouraging antitumor responses, currently only a fraction of patients treated with immune-based therapies respond and some unfortunately report autoimmune-related adverse events. There is therefore a critical need to develop and personalize these promising treatments.

To do so, and thanks to the support received from the BBVA Foundation’s Comprehensive Program of Cancer Immunotherapy & Immunology (CAIMI) at VHIO, we study mechanisms of response, toxicity and resistance to cancer immunotherapeutics in patients at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (HUVH). We aim to identify biomarkers of response in liquid biopsies.

One correlative biomarker described to-date is mutation burden. Tumor-specific somatic mutations are optimal targets for cancer immunotherapy and render tumors immunogenic; some of these can bind to the patients’ human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecules and elicit T-cell responses.

We adopt a highly personalized approach to screen for T-cell mediated recognition of mutated antigens as well as shared antigens using autologous antigen presenting cells that can process and present in all the potential HLA restriction elements.

Following this strategy, we aim to establish whether the presence of lymphocytes recognizing these antigens is associated with response. In parallel, we plan to advance personalized T-cell therapies to treat metastatic colorectal cancer, which is largely resistant to current anti-cancer strategies. We plan to file an IND to the Spanish Regulatory Agency in October 2020 that will enable us to treat patients with metastatic epithelial cancers with neoantigen-reactive TILs using this personalized approach. By enriching for neoantigen-reactive lymphocytes, we hope to enhance the efficacy of TIL therapy in epithelial cancers.

In summary, our group focuses on better understanding the naturally occurring T-cell response to cancer and establishing ways to exploit these antitumor responses to develop more effective, powerful, and precise immunotherapies against cancer.


  • Characterize the personalized antitumor T cell response in patients with cancer
  • Mine the personalized repertoire of tumor-reactive lymphocytes for potential biomarkers of response to cancer immunotherapy using immune checkpoint inhibitors
  • Investigate novel strategies to rapidly identify the tumor-reactive lymphocytes as well as the target antigens driving this response
  • Develop personalized T cell based cancer immunotherapies for patients with solid cancers




  • We have performed the clinical grade validations of TIL expansion for the treatment of patients in collaboration with our hospital’s Blood and Tissue Bank, and thanks to funding received from the BBVA Foundation and its Comprehensive Program of Cancer Immunotherapy & Immunology (CAIMI) at VHIO Elena Garralda, Principal Investigator of VHIO’s Early Clinical Drug Development and Director of our Research Unit for Molecular Therapy of Cancer (UITM) – ”la Caixa”, is designing the clinical protocol to treat patients with epithelial cancers with TILs enriched for neoantigen recognition. We estimate that we will submit the investigational new drug application (IND) and clinical protocol to the Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios(AEMPS) by October 2020. Our aim is to treat patients by mid-2021.
  • Our group is now collaborating with Holger Heyn, Team Leader at the National Center for Genomic Analysis (CNAG-CRG), Barcelona, to study the T cells infiltrating endometrial cancers with unprecedented detail, at the single cell level. These studies will guide the identification of T cells with superior traits for adoptive cell transfer.



  • Principal Investigator
    • Alena Gros
  • Post-Doctoral Fellows
    • Jara Palomero
    • Ricky Fong
  • Graduate Students
    • Judit Díaz
    • Andrea Garcia
    • Maria Lozano
    • Anna Yuste
  • Technicians
    • Immaculada Creus
    • Albert Marín
  • Students
    • Roc Farriol
    • Carla Panisello



  • Gros A, Tran E, Parkhurst MR, Ilyas S, Pasetto A, Groh EM, Robbins PF, Yossef R, Garcia-Garijo A, Fajardo CA, Prickett TD, Jia L, Gartner JJ, Ray S, Ngo L, Wunderllich JR, Yang JC, Rosenberg SA. Recognition of human gastrointestinal cancer neoantigens by circulating PD-1+ lymphocytes. J Clin Invest. 2019 Nov 1;129(11):4992-5004.
  • Garcia-Garijo A, Fajardo CA, Gros A. Determinants for Neoantigen Identification. Front Immunol. 2019 Jun 24;10:1392.
  • Yossef R, Tran E, Deniger DC, Gros A, Pasetto A, Parkhurst MR, Gartner JJ, Prickett TD, Cafri G, Robbins PF, Rosenberg SA. Enhanced detection of neoantigen-reactive T cells targeting unique and shared oncogenes for personalized cancer immunotherapy. JCI Insight. 2018 Oct 4;3(19). pii: 122467.
  • R. Eil, S.K. Vodnala, D. Clever, C.A. Klebanoff, M.Sukumar, J.H. Pan, D.C. Palmer, A. Gros, T.N. Yamamoto, S.J. Patel, G.C. Guittard, Z. Yu, V. Carbonaro, K. Okkenhaug, D.S. Schrump, W.M. Linehan, R. Roychoudhuri, N.P. Restifo. Ionic immune suppression within the tumour microenvironment limits T cell effector function, Nature, 14 (2016) 539-543.
  • A. Pasetto, A. Gros, P.F. Robbins, D.C. Deniger, R.D. Prickett, R. Matus-Nicodemos, D.C. Douek, B. Howie, H. Robins, M.R. Parkhurst, J. Gartner, K. Trebska-McGowan, J.S. Crystal, S.A. Rosenberg.Tumor- and Neoantigen-reactive T-cell receptors can be identified based on their frequency in fresh tumor.Cancer Immunol 2 (2016) 734-743.
  • T.D. Prickett, J.S. Crystal, C.J. Cohen, A. Pasetto, M.R. Parkhurst, J.J. Gartner, X. Yao, R. Wang, A. Gros, Y.F. Li, M. El-Gamil, K. Trebska-McGowan, S.A. Rosenberg, P.F. Robbins, Durable Complete Response from Metastatic Melanoma after Transfer of Autologous T Cells Recognizing 10 Mutated Tumor Antigens, Cancer Immunol Res, (2016).
  • C.A. Klebanoff, C.D. Scott, A.J. Leonardi, T.N. Yamamoto, A.C. Cruz, C. Ouyang, M. Ramaswamy, R. Roychoudhuri, Y. Ji, R.L. Eil, M. Sukumar, J.G. Crompton, D.C. Palmer, Z.A. Borman, D. Clever, S.K. Thomas, S. Patel, Z. Yu, P. Muranski, H. Liu, E. Wang, F.M. Marincola, A. Gros, L. Gattinoni, S.A. Rosenberg, R.M. Siegel, N.P. Restifo, Memory T cell-driven differentiation of naive cells impairs adoptive immunotherapy, J Clin Invest, 126 (2016) 318-334.
  • A. Gros, M.R. Parkhurst, E. Tran, A. Pasetto, P.F. Robbins, S. Ilyas, T.D. Prickett, J.J. Gartner, J.S. Crystal, I.M. Roberts, K. Trebska-McGowan, J.R. Wunderlich, J.C. Yang, S.A. Rosenberg, Prospective identification of neoantigen-specific lymphocytes in the peripheral blood of melanoma patients, Nat Med, 22 (2016) 433-438.
  • E. Tran, M. Ahmadzadeh, Y.C. Lu, A. Gros, S. Turcotte, P.F. Robbins, J.J. Gartner, Z. Zheng, Y.F. Li, S. Ray, J.R. Wunderlich, R.P. Somerville, S.A. Rosenberg, Immunogenicity of somatic mutations in human gastrointestinal cancers, Science, 350 (2015) 1387-1390.
  • L.M. Draper, M.L. Kwong, A. Gros, S. Stevanovic, E. Tran, S. Kerkar, M. Raffeld, S.A. Rosenberg, C.S. Hinrichs, Targeting of HPV-16+ Epithelial Cancer Cells by TCR Gene Engineered T Cells Directed against E6, Clin Cancer Res, 21 (2015) 4431-4439.
  • J.G. Crompton, M. Sukumar, R. Roychoudhuri, D. Clever, A. Gros, R.L. Eil, E. Tran, K. Hanada, Z. Yu, D.C. Palmer, S.P. Kerkar, R.D. Michalek, T. Upham, A. Leonardi, N. Acquavella, E. Wang, F.M. Marincola, L. Gattinoni, P. Muranski, M.S. Sundrud, C.A. Klebanoff, S.A. Rosenberg, D.T. Fearon, N.P. Restifo, Akt inhibition enhances expansion of potent tumor-specific lymphocytes with memory cell characteristics, Cancer Res, 75 (2015) 296-305.
  • N. Acquavella, D. Clever, Z. Yu, M. Roelke-Parker, D.C. Palmer, L. Xi, H. Pflicke, Y. Ji, A. Gros, K. Hanada, I.S. Goldlust, G.U. Mehta, C.A. Klebanoff, J.G. Crompton, M. Sukumar, J.J. Morrow, Z. Franco, L. Gattinoni, H. Liu, E. Wang, F. Marincola, D.F. Stroncek, C.C. Lee, M. Raffeld, M.W. Bosenberg, R. Roychoudhuri, N.P. Restifo, Type I cytokines synergize with oncogene inhibition to induce tumor growth arrest, Cancer Immunol Res, 3 (2015) 37-47.
  • S. Turcotte, A. Gros, E. Tran, C.C. Lee, J.R. Wunderlich, P.F. Robbins, S.A. Rosenberg, Tumor-Reactive CD8+ T Cells in Metastatic Gastrointestinal Cancer Refractory to Chemotherapy, Clin Cancer Res, 20 (2014) 331-343.
  • E. Tran, S. Turcotte, A. Gros, P.F. Robbins, Y.C. Lu, M.E. Dudley, J.R. Wunderlich, R.P. Somerville, K. Hogan, C.S. Hinrichs, M.R. Parkhurst, J.C. Yang, S.A. Rosenberg, Cancer immunotherapy based on mutation-specific CD4+ T cells in a patient with epithelial cancer, Science, 344 (2014) 641-645.
  • A. Gros, P.F. Robbins, X. Yao, Y.F. Li, S. Turcotte, E. Tran, J.R. Wunderlich, A. Mixon, S. Farid, M.E. Dudley, K. Hanada, J.R. Almeida, S. Darko, D.C. Douek, J.C. Yang, S.A. Rosenberg, PD-1 identifies the patient-specific CD8(+) tumor-reactive repertoire infiltrating human tumors, J Clin Invest, 124 (2014) 2246-2259.
  • S. Turcotte, A. Gros, K. Hogan, E. Tran, C.S. Hinrichs, J.R. Wunderlich, M.E. Dudley, S.A. Rosenberg, Phenotype and function of T cells infiltrating visceral metastases from gastrointestinal cancers and melanoma: implications for adoptive cell transfer therapy, J Immunol, 191 (2013) 2217-2225.
  • R.A. Morgan, N. Chinnasamy, D. Abate-Daga, A. Gros, P.F. Robbins, Z. Zheng, M.E. Dudley, S.A. Feldman, J.C. Yang, R.M. Sherry, G.Q. Phan, M.S. Hughes, U.S. Kammula, A.D. Miller, C.J. Hessman, A.A. Stewart, N.P. Restifo, M.M. Quezado, M. Alimchandani, A.Z. Rosenberg, A. Nath, T. Wang, B. Bielekova, S.C. Wuest, N. Akula, F.J. McMahon, S. Wilde, B. Mosetter, D.J. Schendel, C.M. Laurencot, S.A. Rosenberg, Cancer regression and neurological toxicity following anti-MAGE-A3 TCR gene therapy, J Immunother, 36 (2013) 133-151.
  • C. Puig-Saus, A. Gros, R. Alemany, M. Cascallo, Adenovirus i-leader truncation bioselected against cancer-associated fibroblasts to overcome tumor stromal barriers, Mol Ther, 20 (2012) 54-62.
  • S. Guedan, D. Grases, J.J. Rojas, A. Gros, F. Vilardell, R. Vile, E. Mercade, M. Cascallo, R. Alemany, GALV expression enhances the therapeutic efficacy of an oncolytic adenovirus by inducing cell fusion and enhancing virus distribution, Gene Ther, 19 (2012) 1048-1057.
  • A. Gros, S. Turcotte, J.R. Wunderlich, M. Ahmadzadeh, M.E. Dudley, S.A. Rosenberg, Myeloid cells obtained from the blood but not from the tumor can suppress T-cell proliferation in patients with melanoma, Clin Cancer Res, 18 (2012) 5212-5223.
  • M. Gimenez-Alejandre, A. Gros, R. Alemany, Construction of capsid-modified adenoviruses by recombination in yeast and purification by iodixanol-gradient, Methods Mol Biol, 797 (2012) 21-34.
  • L. Coughlan, S. Vallath, A. Gros, M. Gimenez-Alejandre, N. Van Rooijen, G.J. Thomas, A.H. Baker, M. Cascallo, R. Alemany, I.R. Hart, Combined fiber modifications both to target alpha(v)beta(6) and detarget the coxsackievirus-adenovirus receptor improve virus toxicity profiles in vivo but fail to improve antitumoral efficacy relative to adenovirus serotype 5, Hum Gene Ther, 23 (2012) 960-979.
  • S. Guedan, J.J. Rojas, A. Gros, E. Mercade, M. Cascallo, R. Alemany, Hyaluronidase expression by an oncolytic adenovirus enhances its intratumoral spread and suppresses tumor growth, Mol Ther, 18 (2010) 1275-1283.
  • A. Gros, C. Puig, S. Guedan, J.J. Rojas, R. Alemany, M. Cascallo, Verapamil enhances the antitumoral efficacy of oncolytic adenoviruses, Mol Ther, 18 (2010) 903-911.
  • 22.- J.J. Rojas, M. Cascallo, S. Guedan, A. Gros, J. Martinez-Quintanilla, A. Hemminki, R. Alemany, A modified E2F-1 promoter improves the efficacy to toxicity ratio of oncolytic adenoviruses, Gene Ther, 16 (2009) 1441-1451.
  • J. Martinez-Quintanilla, M. Cascallo, A. Gros, C. Fillat, R. Alemany, Positive selection of gene-modified cells increases the efficacy of pancreatic cancer suicide gene therapy, Mol Cancer Ther, 8 (2009) 3098-3107.
  • M. Huch, A. Gros, A. Jose, J.R. Gonzalez, R. Alemany, C. Fillat, Urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor transcriptionally controlled adenoviruses eradicate pancreatic tumors and liver metastasis in mouse models, Neoplasia, 11 (2009) 518-528, 514 p following 528.
  • N. Bayo-Puxan, M. Gimenez-Alejandre, S. Lavilla-Alonso, A. Gros, M. Cascallo, A. Hemminki, R. Alemany, Replacement of adenovirus type 5 fiber shaft heparan sulfate proteoglycan-binding domain with RGD for improved tumor infectivity and targeting, Hum Gene Ther, 20 (2009) 1214-1221.
  • S. Guedan, A. Gros, M. Cascallo, R. Vile, E. Mercade, R. Alemany, Syncytia formation affects the yield and cytotoxicity of an adenovirus expressing a fusogenic glycoprotein at a late stage of replication, Gene Ther, 15 (2008) 1240-1245.
  • A. Gros, J. Martinez-Quintanilla, C. Puig, S. Guedan, D.G. Mollevi, R. Alemany, M. Cascallo, Bioselection of a gain of function mutation that enhances adenovirus 5 release and improves its antitumoral potency, Cancer Res, 68 (2008) 8928-8937.
  • M. Cascallo, A. Gros, N. Bayo, T. Serrano, G. Capella, R. Alemany, Deletion of VAI and VAII RNA genes in the design of oncolytic adenoviruses, Hum Gene Ther, 17 (2006) 929-940.
  • N. Bayo-Puxan, M. Cascallo, A. Gros, M. Huch, C. Fillat, R. Alemany, Role of the putative heparan sulfate glycosaminoglycan-binding site of the adenovirus type 5 fiber shaft on liver detargeting and knob-mediated retargeting, J Gen Virol, 87 (2006) 2487-2495.