VHIO and the Fritz Bender Foundation present latest advances in individualized cancer treatments

17th Fritz Bender Foundation International Symposium: Progress Towards Individualized Cancer Treatments, 07 – 09 November, 2013

To be inaugurated today, 07 November 2013, and running until Saturday 09 November, the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) is hosting and co-organizing the 17th edition in the Fritz Bender Foundation International Symposia series: Progress Towards Individualized Cancer Treatments, presided by an international scientific committee and incorporating an outstanding panel of renowned speakers from across the globe. These prestigious symposia are led by the Fritz Bender Foundation with two main objectives in mind:

Firstly, the principle raison d´etre behind the Fritz Bender Foundation Symposia is to provide a unique platform for up and coming young researchers and physician scientists to interact, exchange, and debate with current thought-leaders within the oncology field. Importantly, as the current economic climate weighs heavy on research budgets, participation at must-attend events is becoming increasingly out of reach for younger Faculty.

Secondly, these meetings seek to promote the latest advances within the field at international level in order to also impact at local level. This is achieved by identifying the most suitable research institute as co-organizer to host in the respective country selected for each symposium. For 2013, VHIO was entrusted to host and co-organize the 17th Fritz Bender Foundation Symposium, with the support of “la Caixa” Foundation.

Personalization of cancer treatments

Cancer is the leading cause of death in the active population and it will affect one in three individuals over the course of their lifetime. Cancer mortality has decreased in recent years due to multiple factors such as early diagnosis and improved treatments. Such a decrease however can mainly be explained through our understanding of the molecular biology of cancer, which has increased exponentially over the last decade. “Molecular diagnostics have helped us identify therapeutic agents to develop drugs which are more selective, more targeted and more specific for tumor subgroups with unique biological characteristics. This has allowed us to select patients for treatment in a highly individualized manner,” says Josep Tabernero, Director of VHIO, Symposium Co-Chair, and Chair of the session dedicated to Therapeutic Targets on Saturday 09 November.

“The critical role of cancer molecular biology and its direct impact on personalized treatments is widely discussed in all forums of scientific debate. We must continue the must-have conversations that are triggered at the major scientific meetings and, above all, we must draw the oncologists and the younger researchers into the discussion, so that they may develop their full potential; this is one of the Symposium’s objectives,” states Tabernero.

VHIO’s multidisciplinarity and capacity to advance precision oncology, are largely possible thanks to the optimal environment and set-up whereby physician-scientists at its Research Unit for Molecular Therapy of Cancer (UITM) – “la Caixa” who lead phase I clinical trials for new antitumor therapies, work in close collaboration with VHIO´s preclinical research groups including Experimental Therapeutics and Tumor Growth Factors, in tight connectivity with researchers belonging to its Translational Research Programme.

This purely translational, multidisciplinary research model, established from the very outset, enables VHIO to do one of the things that it does best, namely, translate research findings for the benefit of patients in record time.

Genetic profiling and tumor characterization: driving individualized cancer treatments

Cancer genomics coupled with molecular diagnostics have marked a paradigm shift in the way we used to treat patients. “No longer can we, nor do we want to, refer to one singular disease,” asserts Joaquín Arribas, Director of Preclinical Research at VHIO and Chair of the Session on Tumor-Host Relationships, Friday morning 08 November. “Nowadays, when we speak about cancer we are talking about more than 200 distinct diseases that all require finely tuned and tailored therapeutic strategies. This in turn requires continued evaluation of all treatment options, from current ones to the new therapeutic targets, as well as the novel combinatorial treatment strategies. Above all, alternatives must be sought for those subgroups that are resistant to treatment and the reasons behind such resistance must be unmasked,” adds Arribas.

Improving cancer treatment and care of our patients lies in individualized cancer medicine and “that’s why we focus our efforts on translational research, to ultimately find clinically applicable solutions tailored to individual patients,” explains Joan Seoane, Director of VHIO’s Translational Research Programme and Chair of the Session dedicated to Tumor Characterization on Thursday afternoon, 07 November. “We have clear examples of personalized cancer medicine at VHIO. For example, recently the genome of a tumor from a patient with Li-Fraumeni syndrome was fully characterized. In these cases we generally begin with a real problem experienced by a patient or a group of patients in order to provide a solution that may improve current therapeutic approaches and that could be extrapolated to other patients,” remarks Seoane.

Therapeutic targets

Recent advances in research into the molecular biology of cancer have resulted in the successful development – and subsequent approval – of some of the new targeted treatments and approaches including immunotherapy, the combination of existing therapeutic strategies, and the development of innovative targeted treatments that are currently in the clinical trial phase and that increase the survival rate of patients suffering from pancreatic, stomach, breast or colorectal cancer, to name a few.

In the case of colorectal cancer (CRC), for example, “two factors are changing the way we develop new therapies: the first is the vast amount of genomic data generated from CRC patients that has recently been made available thanks to international consortia, and which provides vital information about gene deregulation in CRC; and the second is how analysis of this data enables subgroups of patients to be differentiated and considered for distinct therapies,” according to Josep Tabernero. Currently several clinical studies are evaluating the combination of BRAF or MEK inhibitors with EGFR inhibitors.

17th Fritz-Bender Foundation International Symposium: Progress Towards Individualized Cancer Treatments

The Scientific Committee of the Fritz-Bender Foundation International Symposium: Progress Towards Individualized Cancer Treatments, is composed of experts Josep Tabernero, Director of VHIO and Symposium Co-Chair; Kurt S. Zänker of the Fritz-Bender Foundation and Witten/Herdecke University (Germany) and Symposium Co-Chair; Enrico Mihich of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (USA), also Symposium Co-Chair; and Joaquín Arribas and Joan Seoane, Directors of VHIO’s Preclinical and Translational Research Programmes, respectively.

Incorporating an outstanding panel of internationally renowned speakers, the meeting will run for two and a half days to debate and exchange the very latest data across the five main sessions: 1) Genetic Profiling of Patients, 2) Tumor Characterization, 3) Tumor-Host Relationships, 4) Therapeutic Targets I, and 5) Therapeutic Targets II.

In addition to the main scientific program, which will address some of the many remaining questions in our efforts to change the face of cancer through precision cancer treatment and care, participants can expect to discover yet more relevant and recent advances within the oncology field throughout the poster and networking sessions scheduled throughout the coffee and lunch breaks.

Some 60 posters will be divided and displayed across the first two days of the meeting, with their respective author(s) present to discuss the findings directly with participants and speakers. In recognition of these contributions, in collaboration with VHIO, both Nature Reviews Cancer and Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology have each sponsored a poster prize. To be judged by the Symposium´s Scientific Committee, the prizes will be awarded to the presenters of the two top posters on the last day of the Symposium, Saturday 09 November.

For more information visit: www.vhiosymposium2013.com

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