Evren Alici group - Cell and Gene Therapy

Evren Alici and The Cell and Gene Therapy Group (CGTG) have a particular interest in exploring natural killer (NK) cells in patients with multiple myeloma (MM).

MM is a malignant neoplasm characterized by clonal proliferation of plasma cells in the bone marrow accounting for 2% of all cancer deaths and nearly 20% of deaths caused by hematological malignancies. The standard treatment for MM is high-dose chemotherapy conditioning with autologous stem cell transplantation (SCT) and immunomodulatory drugs (IMiD), proteasome inhibitors (PIs) as well as monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Although recent developments in therapies significantly improve the median overall survival (OS), the disease remains incurable due to the persistence of minimal residual disease. Novel modalities complementing or enhancing current treatment options are needed.

About our research

Our group’s primary research focus is to optimize and clinically adapt strategies to retarget NK cells to tumors with limited off-target effects and toxicity profiles. For this purpose, we are currently performing clinical trials where NK cell responses are enhanced and retargeted against tumor cells in patients with MM. More specifically, we aim to develop novel NK cell-based therapies including next-generation engagers, next-generation chimeric antigen receptors for NK cells (CAR-NK), and next-generation small molecules for NK cell modulation. Our mission is to shorten production time, increasing target cell specificity, and eliminating unwanted side effects of current cell-based immunotherapies. The product candidates are developed in our translational research laboratories and tested in the clinic, alone and/or in combination with select existing therapeutics (e.g., antibodies, bispecific engagers, small molecules). 


Our projects include generation and testing of genetically engineered NK cells, including chimeric receptor and CAR-NK cells against multiple target antigens. We are exploring the use of small molecules and oncolytic viruses to increase NK cell reactivity against tumor cells in vivo and in vitro. In parallel, we are customizing plasmids and viral vectors for optimal gene transfer into immune cells. 

Group leader

Evren Alici

Group Leader, Associate Professor

Evren Alici is the group leader of the Cell and Gene Therapy Group, HERM, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet. Evren received his MD at Ege University in 1999 and received his PhD from Karolinska Institutet in 2006. Evren's main research interests are natural killer cells, multiple myeloma, lentiviral and retroviral gene transfer, stem cell transplantation and immunology. 

Group members

Nutsa Burduli

PhD student

Nutsa Burduli joined the Evren Alici in April 2020. Nutsa completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s studies at National University of Ireland, Galway where she was first introduced to the area of NK cell research. She has previously worked on genetic modifications in NK cells to treat pancreatic cancer. Nutsa is now working on NK cell-based immunotherapies in Multiple Myeloma.

Michael Chrobok

PhD, Research Coordinator

Michael received his B.Sc. degree in Biochemistry from Leibniz University Hannover and M.Sc. in Molecular Life Sciences from the University of Hamburg. After finishing his master’s project on the influence of cytomegalovirus on the human immune system at the Heinrich-Pette Institute in Hamburg, Michael started as a PhD student in Evren Alici ́s lab at the Karolinska Institute in January of 2013 and defended his thesis “Natural Killer Cells, Multiple Myeloma, and Daratumumab –A Love-Hate Relationship” in May 2019. Michael currently works as a Research Coordinator at the Pre-GMP facility at ANA Futura.

Carin Dahlberg

PhD, Project Coordinator

Carin defended her PhD thesis in Immunology in March 2015 at the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology (MTC), Karolinska Institutet. After her PhD, she had a postdoctoral fellowship at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA for two years focusing on NK cell therapy for Multiple Myeloma. Since March 2017 Carin has been working in Evren Alici’s group as a Project Coordinator, responsible for ongoing projects as well as setting up new collaborations. 

Mari Gilljam

Biomedical Analyst (BMA)

Biomedical analyst in Evren Alici's group. Educated in GMP work. Developed a closed system for expansion of NK-cells. Worked in GMP facility producing NK-cells in a clinical trial, phase one. Primarily working with cells, both primary and cell lines.

Kelly Grahn

Project Coordinator

Kelly has a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada. Kelly has many years of professional international Regulatory Affairs and Quality Systems experience from the Medtech industry. After an inspiring course in Global Health, which had a focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Kelly joined the Alici group in January 2018 and currently works as the Research Group Coordinator.

Alamdar Hussain

Senior lab manager

Alamdar received his PhD degree in Molecular Medicine from Karolinska Institutet in the summer of 2013 and worked as an Assistant Professor at CIIT, Pakistan from 2013 until the spring of 2017. Alamdar joined the Evren Alici lab as a Postdoc in April 2017. His research interests include the generation and modification of retro and lenti viral vectors and chimeric receptors for cancer immunotherapy.

Charlotte Hållstrand

Biomedical Scientist

Charlotte has a Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Technology. Prior to joining the Alici group, Charlotte was working at Vecura, KCC, Karolinska University Hospital since 1996 and was mostly working with GMP production of cell and gene therapy products for clinical trials. 

Maria Karvouni

M.Sc., PhD student

Maria received her diploma in Pharmacy from the University of Athens, Greece, in 2014 and her M.Sc. in Stratified Medicine and Pharmacological Innovation from the University of Glasgow, UK, in 2016. In 2017, she joined Evren Alici's group as a student of the Advanced course in Immune, Infection and Tumour Biology offered by Karolinska Institutet. She is now working as a PhD student in the group. Her research focuses on CAR-NK cells, antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) and functionalized spider silk for treatment of Multiple Myeloma.

Kyra Kuhnigk

PhD student

Kyra received her M.Sc. in Molecular Life Sciences in 2019 from the University of Lübeck, Germany. She joined Evren Alici's group as a PhD student in August 2020. Kyra’s research focuses on the killing dynamics and immune synapse formation of genetically modified NK cells. This work is carried out in collaboration with Björn Önfelt (SciLifeLab).

Stephan Meinke

Lab manager

One part of Stephan’s research is the investigation of immune-phenotypes of different individuals. He is interested in the changes in different populations of immune cells between healthy donors and patients, as well as in patients in response to different treatments. The other part of his research is transfusion immunology with a focus on antibody-mediated anti-platelet responses. Here, Stephan investigates an approach to generate suitable platelet products for anti-HLA immunised patients by removing HLA molecules from non-matched donor platelets. This work is in collaboration with professor Petter Höglund

Dara Mohammad

PhD, Researcher

Dara received his PhD degree in Molecular Medicine from Karolinska Institutet in 2015 under the supervision of Professor C.I. Edvard Smith. He then worked as a postdoctoral research scientist at Evox Therapeutics within Karolinska Institute until May 2018. Dara joined Evren Alici’s group as a postdoctoral research scientist in June 2018 and became a Researcher in September 2020. Dara’s research interests include Immuno-cell signaling, cancer development and signal transduction of engineered Extracellular Vesicles (EVs) targeting diseases for cancer immunotherapy application.

Anders Norman

M.Sc., Research Engineer

Anders received his M.Sc.Eng in Medical Biotechnology from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in 2018. After finishing his degree project on the Recombination Enhancer in Kluyveromyces lactis at the Department of Molecular Biosciences at Stockholm University, Anders worked at a startup company in Solna where he developed cancer diagnostics based on Circulating Tumor Cells in liquid biopsies.

Hazel Reilly

PhD student

Hazel joined the Evren Alici group in November 2021. She received her B.Sc. degree in Biomedical Science, from Technological University Dublin, in June 2020. Hazel has previously worked on GMP manufacture of hESC derived RPE to treat dry age related macular degeneration. She is now working on tumour retargeted iPSC derived NK cells.

Katharina Helene Susek

MD, PhD student

After receiving her medical degree from the University of Muenster, Germany in winter 2014, Katharina was working as a physician in the Department of Radiation Oncology, University Hospital Muenster from January 2015 until December 2017. She joined Evren Alici’s group in January 2018 as a PhD student. Her research focus is the genetic modification of Natural Killer Cells to re-target immune checkpoint inhibition in Multiple Myeloma and herpes-simplex virus type 1 oncolytic virotherapy in the context of Multiple Myeloma and sarcoma.

Arnika Kathleen Wagner

PhD, Assistant Professor

Arnika received her M.Sc. in 2008 from the University of Lübeck, Germany. She conducted her PhD studies under the supervision of Klas Kärre at the Dept of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet. Her research focused on NK cells in mouse models for immunotherapy, and studied the crosstalk of NK cells with other immune cells. In Sept 2016, Arnika joined Evren Alici’s group at the Dept of Medicine Huddinge, Karolinska Institutet, to study NK cells in immunotherapy in Multiple Myeloma. Arnika is particularly interested in advancing the use of genetically modified NK cells in different immunotherapeutical approaches.

Research Assistants

Didem Cakirsoy

Research assistant

Jason Clochard

Research assistant

Claire Marsal

Research assistant

Affiliated members

Susan Dunne

Senior scientist (Avectas)
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Gösta Gahrton

Prof Emeritus
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Hareth Nahi

Associate Prof, Karolinska University Hospital
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Andreas Lundqvist

Associate Professor
K7 Department of Oncology-Pathology

Ann Wallblom

Biomedical scientist

Nerges Winblad

PhD student (Fredrik Lanner)
H9 Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology


Tolga Sütlü, PhD. Dissertation 2012: Expansion and genetic modification of human natural killer cells for adoptive immunotherapy of cancer. Opponent: Prof. Jeffrey S. Miller, University of Minnesota. Dr Sutlu left the lab for to do a postdoc at Sabanci University, Turkey. Dr Sutlu is now Assistant Professor at Sabanci University, Turkey.

Adil D. Duru, Postdoc. Left the lab 2014 for a senior staff scientist position at Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, Florida, USA. Dr Duru is now Assistant Professor at Cell Therapy Institute, Nova Southeastern University, Florida, USA.

Johan Lund, MD PhD (co-supervisor). Dissertation 2016: Clinical studies in multiple myeloma. Opponent: Prof. Frits van Rhee, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Dr Lund is now a hematology specialist and post doc in our group.

Katarina Uttervall, MD PhD (co-supervisor). Dissertation 2015: Biological markers and treatment as prognostic factors in multiple myeloma. Opponent: Prof. Ola Landgren, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr Uttervall is now working as an MD and is a post doc in our group.

Ceyda Çalışkan, Postdoc. Ceyda visited our lab from November 2018 until November 2019.

Charlotte Gran, PhD. Dissertation 2021.

Research support

  • Cancerföreningen                                                         
  • VINNOVA (Main PI: H-G Ljunggren)
  • Vycellix, Inc. 
  • Vygen-Bio, Inc. 
  • Zelluna Immunotherapy AS
  • Oncternal Therapeutics
  • Avectas
  • Sorrento Therapeutics, Inc.
  • Karolinska Institutet (KID)
  • KI Fonder (Arnika Wagner & Alamdar Hussain)
  • KI Foundation for Virus Research (Katharina Susek)
  • CIMED (Arnika Wagner)

Selected publications

A combination regimen of bortezomib, cyclophosphamide and betamethasone gives quicker, better and more durable response than VAD/CyBet regimens: results from a Swedish retrospective analysis.
Uttervall K, Admasie J, Alici E, Lund J, Liwing J, Aschan J, et al
Acta Haematol. 2013;130(1):7-15

Inhibition of intracellular antiviral defense mechanisms augments lentiviral transduction of human natural killer cells: implications for gene therapy.
Sutlu T, Nyström S, Gilljam M, Stellan B, Applequist SE, Alici E
Hum. Gene Ther. 2012 Oct;23(10):1090-100

Tracheobronchial transplantation with a stem-cell-seeded bioartificial nanocomposite: a proof-of-concept study.
Jungebluth P, Alici E, Baiguera S, Blomberg P, Bozóky B, Crowley C, et al
Lancet 2011 12;378(9808):1997-2004

Ex vivo expansion of natural killer cells: a question of function.
Sutlu T, Alici E
Cytotherapy 2011 Jul;13(6):767-8

Clinical impact of chromosomal aberrations in multiple myeloma.
Nahi H, Sutlu T, Jansson M, Alici E, Gahrton G
J. Intern. Med. 2011 Feb;269(2):137-47

IPH-2101, a fully human anti-NK-cell inhibitory receptor mAb for the potential treatment of hematological cancers.
Alici E
Curr. Opin. Mol. Ther. 2010 Dec;12(6):724-33

GMP facilities for manufacturing of advanced therapy medicinal products for clinical trials: an overview for clinical researchers.
Alici E, Blomberg P
Curr Gene Ther 2010 Dec;10(6):508-15

Clinical-grade, large-scale, feeder-free expansion of highly active human natural killer cells for adoptive immunotherapy using an automated bioreactor.
Sutlu T, Stellan B, Gilljam M, Quezada HC, Nahi H, Gahrton G, et al
Cytotherapy 2010 Dec;12(8):1044-55

Suicide gene therapy for graft-versus-host disease.
Georgoudaki AM, Sutlu T, Alici E
Immunotherapy 2010 Jul;2(4):521-37