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Molecular Oncology & Immunology: John Haanen


John Haanen, Ph.D. professorGroup Leader

About John Haanen

Research interest: Translational Immunotherapy of Cancer

In collaboration with the group of Ton Schumacher, sophisticated monitoring and dissection of immune responses that occur or develop within the immunotherapy trials are performed. In collaboration with the group of Daniel Peeper and the group of Rene Bernards, patient-derived xenograft models and in vitro synthetic lethality screens are developed to study resistance mechanisms against targeted agents, such as BRAFi in patients with BRAF V600 mutated melanomas.

In the past 10 years John Haanen has developed a close working relationship with Ton Schumacher. Their work has led to the clinical translation of DNA based vaccines and T-cell receptor gene therapy. Both DNA vaccination and TCR gene therapy were successfully developed in preclinical models. In 2005 together with Jos Beijnen and Bastiaan Nuijen from the hospital pharmacy and supported by the NKI they decided to build a GMP facility for the production of DNA vaccines, which was later extended with a cleanroom for the GMP manufacturing of cell products. In 2008 John Haanen had a short sabbatical leave to visit the lab of Steven Rosenberg at the Surgery Branch of the NIH, Bethesda, MD to be informed about treatment with tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. In 2011 the first patient was treated at the NKI-AVL with TIL and up to now 6 patients have been enrolled in a pilot trial. Based on the consistent objective response rate of 40-50% of patients receiving this highly complex treatment, John Haanen in collaboration with groups in Copenhagen and Manchester has decided to start a randomized phase III trial with TIL treatment. This trial will incorporate translational research that should provide information about the precise mechanism of action of TIL and health technology assessment to measure cost-effectiveness and quality of life. 


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Dr. Joost van den Berg

Associate staff scientist


I was trained as a pharmacist and developed a special interest in immunotherapy during my PhD project at the NKI/ Slotervaart Hospital/ Utrecht University and subsequent postdoctoral training at the Center for Cancer Immune Therapy (CCIT) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Currently, I am responsible for the development and production of immunotherapeutic products in the in-house GMP facility of the NKI. In addition, I am involved in the execution of immunotherapy trials, including DNA vaccine trial, and adoptive cell therapy trials with gene modified peripheral blood T cells and Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes.

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Borgers, Jessica

Jessica Borgers MD

Ph.D. student


During my final year of medical school at the Radboud University I had the opportunity to do a research internship at the University of Colorado in Denver. My main project was focused on understanding and overcoming tumor induced immune suppression in melanoma. I really enjoyed working on this project and decided to join the group of prof. Haanen in December 2019 for a PhD project to continue working in this field. Here, I will try to identify biomarkers that can predict which patients will not benefit from immunotherapy and help with the adoptive cell therapy studies.

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Gailaine, Jeanne

Dr. Jeanne Galaine

Guest researcher


I trained as a pharmacist (PharmD) at the University of Rennes 1 (France). After University, I did my PhD training in Immunology at the French Blood Establishment (EFS) of Besançon (France). My thesis focused on studying the antitumor properties of CD4 T cells. In particular, I am interested in exploiting these cells for antitumor immunotherapies: cell therapy, gene therapy and antitumor vaccines. Since obtaining my PhD, I work on the development and production of advanced therapy medicinal products in the in-house GMP facility at EFS of Besançon.

I am currently performing a one-year research stay at the NKI/AvL with the support of the EFS and the Grand Besançon Métropole, and a grant from the Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (ARC). I am collaborating with the research group of John Haanen to develop novel T cell therapies for cancer.

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Kalicharan, Raween

Dr. Raween Kalicharan



I was trained as a pharmacist at the Utrecht University. My master-internship was about the development of tick vaccines in Pretoria (South Africa).

After university I did my PhD training at the University Medical Center Utrecht. In my dissertation, I presented what the new insights are of drug absorption from slow release parenteral drug products. My interest are the development of new drug products, with the focus on advanced therapy medicinal products.

At the NKI, I work on the development and production of immunotherapeutic products in the in-house GMP facility. My focus will be the DNA vaccines production.

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Dr. Cynthia Nijenhuis



I was trained as a pharmacist (PharmD) at the University of Groningen, during which I did research internships at Cornell University and the University of Groningen on analytical techniques for oncology diagnostics (microfluidics). After university I  did my PhD training at the NKI/Slotervaart Hospital/Utrecht University, which focused on bioanalysis and clinical pharmacology of new anticancer agents. The (clinical) development of anti-cancer (bio)therapeutics has my interest, with a focus on drug analysis and characterization (e.g. ADME studies, QC and bioanalytical analysis, drug product quality).

Currently I work on the development and production of immunotherapeutic products in the in-house GMP facility.

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Raud, Brenda

Dr. Brenda Raud

Postdoctoral Fellow


I studied Biotechnology at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Argentina) and afterwards obtained my Ph.D. in Immunology at the Hannover Medical School, in Germany. My doctoral project focused on the role of lipid metabolism in the development of inflammatory and regulatory T cell responses. During my studies I also did research internships at the Max Planck Institute in Jena (Germany), the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and the Centre d'Immunologie et des Maladies Infectieuses (CIMI) in Paris.

I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow collaborating in the development and clinical application of novel T-cell therapies for cancer.

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Roelofsen, Lisanne

Lisanne Roelofsen MSc

Ph.D. student


After a broad Bachelor at both Delft University of Technology and Leiden University, I did the Master Life, Science & Technology. During my internships, which I did at the Leiden University Medical Center and the NKI, I discovered my interest in immuno-oncology.  

In November 2018, I joined the Haanen group as a PhD student. In my project I aim at understanding how the immune microenvironment composition of a tumors impacts on its response to immunotherapy and whether this can be used to develop new biomarkers and therapeutic targets.

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Rohaan, Maartje

Maartje Rohaan MD

Ph.D. student


After graduating medical school at the VU University, I worked as a resident at the department of internal medicine in the OLVG Oost hospital for 1,5 years. During this time, I gained more clinical experience and I became interested in research and oncology. In May 2017 I started as a PhD student in the group of John Haanen.

My main projects are focused on adoptive cell therapy in patients with advanced melanoma. During my PhD I am coordinating two clinical trials with gene modified peripheral blood T cells and Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes.

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Scheij, Saskia

Saskia Scheij



I work as a technician in the Biotherapeutic Unit. My job includes preparing TILs for melanoma patients. The direct connection with the clinic and the patients makes this a very rewarding job.

This is the first time I work in a GMP environment. Before I have worked as a research technician in the biochemistry department in the AMC. First in the field of lysosomal disorders, later in cholesterol metabolism.

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Dr. Wouter Scheper

Postdoctoral Fellow


In the Haanen lab, my primary research focus is to (1) dissect the specificities and functionalities of tumor-infiltrating T cells, and to (2) develop novel technologies that enable the analysis of molecular and functional features of intratumoral T cells in a high-throughput manner (in collaboration with the Ton Schumacher lab). Finally, a special focus is now to use these technologies to the develop personalized T cell therapies using neoantigen-targeting T cell receptors.

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Van Zon, Maaike.jpg

Maaike van Zon BSc



I am active as a technician in the group of Ton Schumacher to help develop clinical trials of TCR gene therapy. In this process, T cells are genetically engineered to target tumor antigens.

My work involves both research (optimization of protocols) and the generation of cell products for clinical use, and the fact that my work brings research and clinical work together makes it really interesting and exciting.

Before joining the Schumacher lab, I worked as a technician in the electron microscopy group, where I performed research on the localization of different mycobacteria. Here I also performed my internship to obtain my bachelor's degree.

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Key publications View All Publications

  • Rational design of DNA vaccines for the induction of human papillomavirus type 16 E6- and E7-specific cytotoxic T-cell responses.

    Hum Gene Ther. 2012 Dec;23(12):1301-12.

    Oosterhuis K, Aleyd E, Vrijland K, Schumacher TN, Haanen JB.

    Link to Pubmed
  • TIL therapy broadens the tumor-reactive CD8(+) T cell compartment in melanoma patients.

    Oncoimmunology. 2012 Jul 1;1(4):409-418.

    Kvistborg P, Shu CJ, Heemskerk B, Fankhauser M, Thrue CA, Toebes M, van Rooij N, Linnemann C, van Buuren MM, Urbanus JH, Beltman JB, Thor Straten P, Li YF, Robbins PF, Besser MJ, Schachter J, Kenter GG, Dudley ME, Rosenberg SA, Haanen JB, Hadrup SR, Schumacher TN.

    Link to Pubmed

Recent publications View All Publications

  • Preclinical safety evaluation of DNA vaccines encoding modified HPV16 E6 and E7.

    Vaccine. 2012 Jun 13;30(28):4259-66.

    Henken FE, Oosterhuis K, Öhlschläger P, Bosch L, Hooijberg E, Haanen JB, Steenbergen RD.

    Link to Pubmed
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss After Adoptive Cell Immunotherapy for Melanoma Using MART-1 Specific T Cells: A Case Report and Its Pathophysiology.

    Otol Neurotol. 2019 Aug;40(7):e674-e678.

    Duinkerken CW, Rohaan MW, de Weger VA, Lohuis PJFM, Latenstein MN, Theunissen EAR, Balm AJM, Dreschler WA, Haanen JBAG, Zuur CL.

    Link to Pubmed


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    Stephanie Timmer

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