Esteban Celis, M.D, Ph.D.

Cancer Immunology
Augusta University
Recruited: 2013

What if you could figure out how a cancerous tumor is built, then use that information to tear the tumor down?
That’s how Esteban Celis creates immune-based cancer vaccines. His most promising discovery so far is the development synthetic cancer vaccines that have been shown to generate in mice immune responses of an enormous magnitude, previously seen only in individuals responding to acute infections. These vaccines called TriVax and BiVax are non-infectious and use synthetic peptides – compounds of amino acids – that duplicate a part of a protein (tumor antigen) produced by tumor cells. Both TriVax and BiVax spur the body’s immune system to seek out and kill the cancerous cells.
One of these vaccines called TriVax-HPV targets tumors induced by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a major cause of cervical cancer.  In experiments on mice, TriVax-HPV and BiVax-HPV caused the induction of large numbers of T killer cells that targeted the cancerous cells with a great therapeutic effect: They cleared 100 percent of the HPV-related tumors.  Similar results have been obtained using TriVax and BiVax in a mouse model of malignant melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer.
Celis’ vaccines hold promise for treating cancer in patients where tumor antigens have been identified. Celis hopes that peptide vaccines could someday replace conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, yielding better curative results and fewer side effects.
With experience in industry and academics, including posts at the Mayo Clinic and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Celis is a leader in cancer immunology research. He has served on the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Cancer Institute and has received five NIH grants of $1 million or more.


  • Identifying T-cell epitopes at the peptide level from known tumor-associated antigens
  • Overcoming immunological tolerance to self, non-mutated tumor-associated antigens, as a way of eliciting strong and effective anti-cancer immunity
  • Regulating T-cell responses to tumor cells by lymphokines and co-stimulatory signals
  • Identifying the role of helper T cells in the regulation of cytotoxic T-cell responses to tumor antigens

Choosing Georgia

A highly collaborative scientist with a strong interest in translating lab discoveries into clinical treatments, Celis was drawn by the opportunity to become the director of the GRU Cancer Center Tumor Vaccine Initiative and to work with Georgia’s other prominent cancer centers.

Intellectual Property

12 U.S. patents; 135 worldwide