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Laurence Albiges: changing the game in genitourinary oncology

Researcher portraits Article published on 04 July 2024 , Updated on 04 July 2024

Laurence Albiges is a medical oncologist, professor at Université Paris-Saclay and head of the Department of Medical Oncology at Gustave Roussy. A specialist in genitourinary oncology, she is particularly interested in new therapies for metastatic kidney cancer and rare forms of renal cell carcinoma. She develops translational research programmes on these topics. In 2023, she was recognised as a Highly Cited Researcher.

Drawn to the life sciences and the idea of conducting research, Laurence Albiges decided to study medicine at Université Paris 5 (now Université Paris Cité) after obtaining her baccalaureate. This general motivation became more specific over the years and through various experiences. "From my first internships, I discovered a strong interest in the therapeutic management of patients. This intuition was confirmed during my early days in oncology; in addition to my scientific interest in understanding the mechanisms at work in a disease as complex as cancer, I immediately knew that what I enjoyed was feeling useful to patients suffering from very serious illnesses," she explains.

A mantra: being useful to patients

One year - that was the average life expectancy for kidney cancer patients in 2005, the year Laurence Albiges began her internship, due to the lack of truly effective treatments. "We were faced with an extremely aggressive and rapidly progressive disease model, where everything still needed improvement, from patient care to the development of new treatment classes. This challenge undoubtedly motivated me to specialise in this field. Wanting to feel useful, I decided to dedicate all my energy to trying to make a difference for people with a very poor prognosis," explains the researcher.

Towards translational research

In 2004, she began her internship at the Institut Gustave Roussy, where she found the strong human and research dimensions that have guided her career. In 2007, she met Dr Bernard Escudier, a pioneer in the treatment of kidney cancer. This encounter marked a turning point in Laurence Albiges' career and the focus of her research on this specific disease. Working with Dr Escudier, she developed her first scientific publications, notably to provide a better understanding of the rare cases of complete remission in metastatic kidney cancer. "I also spent a year studying for a 2nd year Master’s degree in oncology, which confirmed my desire to pursue a clinical activity closely linked to translational research. Indeed, I was quickly convinced that all my research ideas would stem from clinical observations of patients." In 2010, she began a PhD in science on understanding the biological pathways involved in a rare form of kidney cancer, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School in Boston (USA). In 2015, she joined Gustave Roussy as a specialist practitioner.

From the development of immunotherapy to combination strategies

While the first class of treatments, anti-angiogenics - designed to block vascularisation and thus tumour growth - developed since 2005, has improved the life expectancy of kidney cancer patients, Laurence Albiges has been at the forefront of developing the second class of treatment: immunotherapy. "In 2016, we launched the first large-scale academic trial providing access to immunotherapy for 720 patients with metastatic kidney cancer in France and worked on analysing the mechanisms of sensitivity and resistance to this new type of treatment," says Laurence Albiges.

After this initial step, Laurence Albiges and her team subsequently contributed to the development of combination strategies, aiming to optimise treatment effects by combining different therapeutic classes. "Through the clinical trials we conducted to demonstrate the benefits of combination strategies and change standards, we now have two strategies that combine two treatments: one that pairs an anti-angiogenic with an immunotherapy, and another that combines two immunotherapies," adds Laurence Albiges. These advancements have once again doubled the life expectancy of patients.

CARE1: a European project under the Cancer Mission

Building on these rapidly evolving new standards, Laurence Albiges has been coordinating the European CARE1 project for Gustave Roussy since 1 May 2023. The project is funded by Horizon Europe, the European Union's primary funding programme for research and innovation. "CARE1 is an eight-year project involving 1,200 patients across eight European countries, with the aim of identifying the best therapeutic strategy for each individual, in order to improve the outcomes of first-line treatments for patients with metastatic kidney cancer," explains Laurence Albiges. This ambitious project does not prevent her from being involved in the many other research initiatives led by Gustave Roussy. "We are contributing to the development of new therapeutic classes through innovative clinical trials and also working on identifying different forms of kidney cancer, especially the rarer types, to develop specific biology-based drug strategies," she adds.

The passion for passing on knowledge...

During her residency, while serving as chief resident at Henri Mondor Hospital and later at Gustave Roussy, Laurence Albiges discovered the joy of imparting her scientific knowledge. She became involved in educational projects at Université Paris-Saclay, working with interns and at patients' bedsides. Throughout her rich career, teaching has always played an important role. "I've always been dedicated to inspiring future doctors and, if possible, oncologists, by ensuring I convey the profound human dimension of our profession." For many years, she has been involved in lectures to prepare students for their internship exam and more recently in new educational methods such as simulation workshops. She is also responsible for intern and extern education at Gustave Roussy. "Two years ago, I was honoured to sponsor a graduating class of future young doctors: a wonderful opportunity to see that the future is in good hands!"

... and creating connections

On her arrival at Gustave Roussy, Laurence Albiges immediately took on hospital management duties as head of Gustave Roussy's genitourinary oncology committee for six years. Since 2021, she has been heading the Department of Medical Oncology. Her responsibilities include structuring patient care, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and stimulating scientific competition - "I strongly believe in cross-disciplinary fertilisation" - creating a high-quality care infrastructure and ensuring comprehensive patient care at every stage of their illness. "When you're lucky enough to work at Gustave Roussy, Europe's leading cancer centre, you are responsible for providing the best possible environment for patient care and scientific dynamism for your colleagues," concludes Laurence Albiges.


Laurence Albiges