Resetting the tipping point: Converting immune checkpoint non-responders into responders

Increasing cancer treatment success rates through immunotherapy

Cancer immunotherapy has shown some great results, with complete regression of cancer in some patients. Unfortunately, this is seen only in a small proportion of patients and not in all cancer types.

In this project, we are characterising the events that occur in a cancer that is cured by immunotherapy, using systems biology analyses of gene expression data. By subsequently reinforcing those processes, using already available drugs, we aim to tip the balance towards a response, thereby increasing the cure rate.

Overall, we aim to discover drugs that will enhance the efficacy of current immune therapies for cancer and also aim to understand how successful immunotherapy exerts its effect.

Our results may change the way we discover new drugs.

Project goals:

  • Increase the cure rate of mesothelioma through combination immunotherapy
  • Apply results to other cancers
  • Discover why some patients respond better to treatment than others
Immunotherapy has made huge steps in the last two years in some cancers. In 20-30% of patients, we are seeing important improvements in their ability to fight the cancer. However, the remaining 70 per cent see no improvements whatsoever and some cancers – such as mesothelioma – seem to be a lot more resistant than others. We want to find out why some respond so well while others do not.

Dr Willem Lesterhuis, Research Team Leader


This project is at the intersection of cutting-edge cancer biology, immunology and computational biology. It extends from basic science to animal models and translation into the clinic.

We have partnered with:

  • Professor Anna Nowak and Professor Michael Millward (Department of Medical Oncology UWA/Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital)
  • Professor Michael Small (Mathematics, UWA)
  • Dr Anthony Bosco and Dr Timo Lassmann (Telethon Kids Institute)
  • Professor Richard Lake (National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases)

Telethon Kids Institute logo

Contact Dr Willem (Joost) Lesterhuis