What is chemical immunology?

Where different worlds come together, new insights will develop. That is the idea behind the Institute for Chemical Immunology (ICI), to bring together knowledge about our immune system with the possibilities of current-day chemistry, to developed new diagnostic and therapeutic tools for diseases like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Our highly sophisticated immune system is essential to survive in an environment filled with pathogens for which the temperature-controlled, nutrient rich human body forms an attractive niche. When functioning correctly, our immune system protects us from external threats such as pathogens, but also various cancers. When instead activated inappropriately, it wreaks havoc in the form of auto-immune diseases, with rheumatoid arthritis just being a prime example affecting already millions of people.

Our rapid increase in understanding of the human immune system has been used to develop strategies to both enhance desirable immune responses and to inhibit unwanted ones. For example, vaccines that prevent infection have found widespread use, and are by the World Health Organization (WHO) considered one of the most effective human healthcare interventions. Similarly, antibodies, one of the proteins that the immune system uses to recognize and inactivate invading pathogens, have emerged as a class of pharmaceuticals in its own right, with proven clinical efficacy in for instance oncology, auto-immune disease and organ transplantation. In line with the very high medical value of antibodies and other biopharmaceuticals, the pharmaceutical industry is presently intensely focusing on these molecules in their drug discovery pipelines.

Researchers in ICI join forces to develop novel classes of immune interventions, by combining their expertise and tools. Within ICI, experts in chemical biology, structural biology, proteomics and drug design assemble with experts in immunology to define a novel field of chemistry-driven immune intervention.