New project: Patients own cells to be used in the fight against cancer – University of Copenhagen

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10 January 2017

New project: Patients own cells to be used in the fight against cancer

new project

Cancer patient survival rates in Denmark are among the poorest in Europe, but a new project aims to use personalized medicine to fight back. A number of public and private partners have come together to treat cancer patients with much better accuracy than before, by using patients’ own cells to identify the best possible treatment.

The spread of cancer from a primary tumor to other parts of the body is called metastasis. Metastasis is very complex and often patients with the same type of cancer do not respond to treatment in the same way. This new project, will establish a precision medicine approach to identifying effective treatment options for individual cancer patients with metastatic cancer and involves an already established clinical program at Rigshospitalet where patient tumors are being molecularly profiled.

This ‘pre-clinical program for cancer precision medicine’ will enable pre-screening of drugs to identify the optimal treatment strategy for each patient, using cells from patients grown in the laboratory and tested with a range of potential anti-cancer drugs. Through the use of patient-derived cells, along with the profiling data to create a personalized treatment strategy, the team is also hopeful they will create a platform for future development of new and targeted drugs in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies.

"With this grant from Innovationsfonden we now have the opportunity to accurately match patients with the treatment option that has the best chance of stopping their cancer in its tracks. For too many patients, treatment for metastatic cancer is not effective yet the side-effects can be devastating. We are extremely excited about the opportunity to bring patients the most effective treatment, and to learn much more about why some medicines work in some but not all situations", says Janine Erler, Professor at the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen.

The project, which will be based at BRIC and Rigshospitalet, is in close collaboration with the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca, Roche A/S and MSD. BRIC contributes with extensive expertise within the field of metastasis, while the Rigshospitalet team has wide-ranging knowledge and experience in translating findings directly into the clinic to the patients who matter. The pharmaceutical partners contribute their access to a wide catalogue of anti-cancer medications, and their lengthy experience in research and innovation.

Each patient’s tumour will be used for molecular analysis, and for growth as cells and tumors in the lab. The molecular information will be used to decide which family of drugs to test on the patient's cells and tumors in the lab. The results of drug testing will be directly applied to the patient, determining which effective therapies should be administered to the patient. The cells and tumors grown in the lab will also be used for further drug and biological studies, and we will create a platform for future drug development and testing. (Illustration has been adapted from Creixell et al, 2012, Nature Biotechnology)