Monday 9 October 2023 – The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) has launched a research chair in the name of comedian Alex Agnew, whose theatre tour raised €100,000 for the VUB Yamina Krossa Fund for breast cancer research. That funding will enable Prof Damya Laoui and her team to carry out fundamental research into therapy against relapse and metastasis over the next two years. The chair is named after Agnew in recognition of his contribution.
Alex Agnew met the fund’s founder, Yamina Krossa, and VUB-VIB professor Damya Laoui while recording his podcast Welcome to the AA. The subject was important to him, because the wife of his colleague Andries Beckers had suffered from breast cancer. Yamina’s enthusiasm inspired him to do more: for every ticket sold to his Wake Me Up When It’s Over tour, he would donate €1 to the VUB Yamina Krossa Fund. Eighteen months later, he’s raised €100,000 for cancer research.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life. So it was time to give something back,” says Agnew. “Damya and Yamina are two great women who I’m happy to support in their dream of eliminating breast cancer.”
Yamina Krossa wanted to give him recognition for his generous gift. “Alex Agnew’s donation is a huge boost for the research of Prof Damya Laoui. I am delighted that we can thank him with this chair. It’s an honour worthy of his patronage.”
As patron, Agnew is more than just a financier; he is also making a commitment. Through a steering committee, he will stay up to date about the results of the research.
“A chair is an ideal way for a company or donor to broaden their insights thanks to the VUB research team,” says vice-rector for Innovation and Valorisation Hugo Thienpont. “VUB has the opportunity to put these insights into practice. Our university is particularly grateful to Alex Agnew for his confidence in VUB’s cancer research.”
Cancer therapy research
The Alex Agnew chair will be used for research into a therapy against cancer relapse and metastasis.
“Several years ago, we discovered that in tumours, certain cells of our immune system can protect our body from cancer,” explains Prof Laoui. “These ‘dendritic cells’ are very good at recognising the enemy: cancer cells. As they absorb elements of cancer cells, they can activate the soldiers of the immune system on the one hand and generate a memory against the cancer on the other hand. Before we began our research, dendritic cells in tumours were thought to be corrupted. However, we demonstrated that different types of dendritic cells are present in tumours. Some of these are indeed corrupt, but others, known as cDC1 and cDC2, can activate soldiers and protect our bodies from cancer and metastasis. We demonstrated this with lung cancer in mice. The objective of this chair is to further investigate these mechanisms and extend it to other cancer types such as breast and ovarian cancer. The ultimate goal is to start using this therapy in patients. Several steps need to be completed in order to get approval to start a clinical trial in patients. Dr Elly Marcq is focusing on this step in the investigation.”
The €100,000 donated by Alex Agnew will enable Prof Laoui and her team to carry out fundamental research over the next two years: “Today, it’s not easy to obtain funding for research. With Alex Agnew’s support, we can take our research a step closer to patients and expand our research to other cancer types. We are immensely grateful to him!”
Signing of the chair
On Monday 9 October, the Alex Agnew x Yamina Krossa Fonds chair for breast cancer research will be presented to the public at the VUB campus in Etterbeek. The programme includes an interview with founder Yamina Krossa and patron Alex Agnew, and a presentation of the research carried out by Prof Damya Laoui and Dr Elly Marcq. The evening will close with the ceremonial signing of the chair agreement.
About the VUB Foundation
The VUB Foundation manages the Yamina Krossa Fund and raises philanthropic funds from businesses, organisations, institutions and individuals. It does so in the framework of the TechTransfer service of the vice-rectorate for Innovation and Valorisation. The foundation’s policy is based on the belief that every philanthropic gift creates a social return. Everyone’s contribution supports education, research, innovation or the VUB estate, with the resulting knowledge and insights flowing back into society.