Rewriting the Rulebook
Sitting Down With… Frédéric Triebel, Co-Founder, Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Medical Officer of Immutep, France
James Strachan | | Interview
Did you always want to be a molecular biologist?
I wanted to be a doctor when I was young, and I went to medical school when I was 16. I enjoyed the holistic view of science I received there – physics, chemistry, a bit of mathematics and statistics, as well as anatomy and physiology – and I certainly learned a lot. But working in a hospital essentially involves applying the rules you have learned. Though that is rewarding, I was more fascinated by the prospect of discovering new rules. We’ve known since the ancient Greeks that regardless of how much knowledge you have, there’s always an ocean of the unknown. So I decided to put down the textbook and turn to the microscope.
What did you work on initially?
I started off in haematology in the 1970s, but switched to immunology – my thesis was on human T cell cloning. I then worked on sequencing human T cell receptors, which was new for the molecular biology field. At the same time, I was also working on tumor infiltrating lymphocytes – trying to see what kinds of T cells there were and why there are so many T cells in some human tumors. There were a lot of parallels with an autoimmune disease, which was a good sign if you’re interested in cancer immunotherapy. We didn’t know at that time why these T cells were not doing their jobs and killing the tumors. It’s been fascinating to watch the gaps being filled in over the decades leading to the development of CAR T cell therapy and other immuno-oncology treatments we see today.
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