The European Research Council (ERC) awards prestigious €1.7 M ‘Consolidator Grant’ to VHIO in recognition of scientific excellence

Laura Soucek has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant for research into novel Myc inhibitor agents

  • The Mouse Models of Cancer Therapy Group at Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) embarks upon next phase studies aimed at bringing these inhibitors closer to the clinic
  • The primary objective of the research is to find a safe, administrable pharmacological option for Myc inhibitors

Barcelona, January 18, 2013. The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded one of its most sought after grants to recognize scientific excellence to the Mouse Models of Cancer Therapy Group at Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) led by Laura Soucek. The “Consolidator Grant”, competitively awarded to researchers with a solid background and an outstanding proposal with clear applicability and future potential, is considered the one of the most prestigious of its kind in Europe. The European grant will help develop new strategies to inhibit Myc, a key protein implicated in the formation of most tumors.

The grant, amounting to €1,700,000, will significantly facilitate the group´s ongoing research by guaranteeing Laura and her team to continue with this line of investigation for a period of 5 years. In addition, it further endorses Soucek as Principal Investigator and her high scientific standing at European level. “The ERC experts have judged our work as a high-risk gamble but have positively evaluated the project´s potential for potentiating and further advancing treatment for patients. While the panel considered it to be a difficult challenge, they also viewed that our research could make a real difference to clinical practice,” Soucek states. “We have been working with Myc for a long time now because we and VHIO believe it to be one of the areas that could open new avenues in the fight against cancer. We are honored to have received this grant in recognition of our group’s collective efforts and talent,” Soucek continues.

Myc inhibitors: A project with great applicability and future

The Myc protein plays an important role in the cell since it regulates the expression of 15% of human genes involved in the processes of proliferation, cell differentiation and apoptosis. When mutated or deregulated, Myc induces uncontrolled cell proliferation and this can lead to the development of cancer. Indeed, Myc expression is found to be altered in most cancers, such as cervical, breast, colon, lung and stomach cancers, and is often associated with poor prognosis.

VHIO´s Mouse Models of Cancer Therapy Group, led by Soucek, recently revealed that Myc inhibition has a significant therapeutic impact in mouse models of lung, pancreas and skin cancer, and that side effects are mild, well tolerated and reversible. Moreover, unlike other anti-tumor targets that are often dispensable for cancer cells since they can be substituted by other functions, Myc is irreplaceable, meaning that the cancer is unable to develop resistance to Myc inhibition. Until now, these remarkable results have been achieved using gene therapy to activate the transcription of Omomyc, a protein that sequesters Myc and prevents it from activating genes involved in tumor formation.

Thanks to the support received through the ERC Consolidator Grant, the group will now focus on applying this and other similar inhibitors to the clinical setting. The primary objective of this project, at preclinical level, is to identify a molecule that can penetrate the nucleus of the cell and block Myc action. “Our challenge for the future is to find a way to inhibit Myc that is pharmacologically viable, can be administered and is safe,” Soucek explains.

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