VHIO co-hosts study visit for scientific journalists across Europe

A special study visit was jointly organized by the Centre of Genomic Regulation (CRG) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) as partners of the EU CommHERE Communicating European Health Research Network, in collaboration with the European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations (EUSJA)

Barcelona – 23 May 2014. A group of 15 scientific journalists from across Europe participated this week in a study visit of several research centers of excellence in Barcelona, jointly organized by the Centre of Genomic Regulation (CRG) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) as partners of the EU CommHERE Communicating European Health Research Network.

In addition to the CRG, attendees toured three other specially selected institutions: the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC). The overarching aim of the CommHERE project is to improve communication on the outcome of EU-funded (FP7) health research projects to the media, the general public and other target groups throughout Europe and beyond.

Yesterday, 22 May, upon invitation from the CRG and EMBL, VHIO was honored to host and facilitate the last half-day chapter of the trip aimed at presenting and debating pioneering projects across different scientific disciplines of each of the participating institutes. VHIO is not a CommHERE project partner, but was invited to collaborate due to its participation in several consortia of excellence supported by the European Commission´s 7th Framework Programme of Research and Development (FP7). As part of the VHIO tour agenda, four international projects were selected, presented and debated to further illustrate VHIO´s defining traits including its purely multidisciplinary and translational research model, commitment to advancing precision medicine in oncology, and its contribution to preclinical, translational and clinical research of excellence: RATHER, EurocanPlatform, COLTHERES and WIN:

RATHER – Rational Therapy for Breast Cancer

Representing an important step in delivering on precision oncology by developing tailored therapies using a rational approach, this project focuses on two specific difficult-to-treat subtypes of breast cancer. Involving the combined efforts of six research institutions and two biomedical companies RATHER is a five-year project that commenced in January 2011.

Project Synopsis:

While there are several ongoing large-scale genome re-sequencing studies for the major cancer types, there is no systematic effort to investigate kinase mutations in distinct biological subtypes of these cancers. Research focuses on the rate of activation of all kinases (the “kinome”) in two subtypes of breast cancer with poor prognosis for which there are currently no targeted therapies available, namely “triple negative” (TN) breast tumors lacking the estrogen-, progesterone- and HER2 receptors (constituting 15% of breast cancers), and invasive lobular carcinomas (ILC) of the breast (representing 10% of breast tumors).

RATHER therefore aims at identifying and validating novel targets for therapy for these subtypes of breast cancer towards more precise, effective treatment options and improved outcomes for these patients.



Aimed at improved outcomes for cancer patients and reduced mortality across Europe through prevention, early detection and improved treatments, EurocanPlatform, founded in 2011, is funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme and comprises 28 European leading cancer Institutions and organizations working together in a unique collaboration. The centers share infrastructures and collaborate on projects to help advance cancer research, treatment, and care throughout Europe.

The overarching aim of the project is to improve outcomes for cancer patients and reduce mortality. This is being achieved by focusing on three key areas of research: prevention, early detection and improved treatments.

Project Synopsis:

While Europe has a number of advantages with regards to developing translational cancer research, there is no clear strategy to meet the increasing burden posed by cancer. Analysis from the former Eurocan+Plus project (supported through a European Commission 6th Framework Programme grant), identified the barriers underlying the increasing fragmentation of cancer research and stressed the need to improve collaboration between basic/preclinical and comprehensive cancer centers (CCCs) – institutions in which care and prevention is integrated with research and education. It further proposed the creation of a unique platform of interlinked cancer centers with shared infrastructures and collaborative projects to facilitate rapid advances in knowledge, and their translation into more effective, targeted treatments against cancer.

In response to this urgent call for improved collaboration between basic/preclinical and comprehensive cancer centers (CCCs), EurocanPlatform strives to provide the necessary resources and know-how for the entire research continuum: basic research, early and late translational research, clinical research, epidemiological research, implementation in care and population-based outcome research. Emphasis is placed on discovery-driven translational cancer research across selected tumor types.


COLTHERES – Colon Therapy Research Consortium partners European clinical research centers as well as translational researchers who have received core funding from the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme of Research and Development to define and perform biomarker driven clinical trials to improve cancer therapy outcomes for patients with colorectal cancer. Launched in 2011, this 4-year programme uses comprehensively molecularly-annotated colon cancers as a ‘test-bed’ to define specific biomarkers of response or resistance to signalling pathway agents.

Project Synopsis:

Personalized cancer medicine based on the genetic milieu of individual colorectal tumors has long been postulated, but until recently this concept was not supported by clinical evidence. The observation that a subset of colorectal cancer (CRC) responds to anti-Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) antibody therapies has heralded the widespread conviction that colorectal cancer medicine is set to ´go personalized´. This has led to research and development of clinically validated diagnostic tools and biomarkers for the prospective identification of responder patients. These studies have also revealed important insights into the molecular basis of colorectal cancer.

Members of the COLTHERES consortium — recognized experts in defining and functionally annotating the cancer genome, were instrumental in the seminal discovery that mutant Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog (KRAS) is an absolute predictor of resistance to EGFR-targeted agents (Erbitux and Vectibix) in colon cancer. These studies are now leading to the first practical implementation of personalized medicine, whereby all colon cancer patients are profiled for KRAS mutation prior to receiving anti-EGFR therapy. This has also led to prescription labeling changes in Europe and the US.

It is now emerging that numerous alterations and functional overlaps occur in core signaling pathways, such as the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK), the PI3K and the RAS/RAF/MAPK axis; which offer many routes to circumventing the effectiveness of single targeted agents. Therefore, fully understanding the crosstalk of these pathways and their regulation in various tissue types and patient cohorts will be essential to effectively target them therapeutically.


WIN – Worldwide Innovative Networking in personalized cancer medicine, initiated by the Institut Gustave Roussy (France) and The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center (USA) is a non profit, non-governmental organization incorporating 22 cancer centers and industry partners from five continents to address the challenge of increasing the efficacy of cancer diagnostics and therapeutics. Promoted within the scope of this Consortium, WINTHER (WINTherapeutics) is a unique academic and international clinical trial (launched in 2012), aimed at better predicting drug sensitivity and optimizing individualized therapeutic decisions with improved clinical outcome for patients.

Project Synopsis:

WIN represents a global collaboration of cancer centers, life science and biotechnology organizations, pharmaceutical and technology companies, health plans, and patient advocacy groups. All these different stakeholders at global level have come together to address the challenge of increasing the efficacy of cancer diagnostics and therapeutics by understanding the genetics and biology of each individual’s tumor, and accounting for genetic differences across diverse populations – from North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

WIN was created in 2010 to both accelerate the pace and reduce the cost of translating novel cancer treatments to the bedside. Through global clinical trials, such as the unique WINTHER (WINTherapeutics) academic and international clinical trial (launched in 2012), and various research projects, it will develop and promote the most promising advances in genomic-based cancer research. As a global consortium guided by an independent scientific advisory board, WIN aims to initiate research projects each year.


Following the project presentations and a tour of VHIO´s facilities and laboratories set within the heart of the Vall d´Hebron University Hospital (HUVH) campus, the visiting journalists participated in a special Q and A session with Josep Tabernero, Director of VHIO and VHIO´s Clinical Research Program, Joan Seoane and Joaquín Arribas, Directors of VHIO´s Translational and Preclinical Research Programmes respectively, followed by an informal mix and mingle lunch with some of VHIO´s Principal Investigators.

The VHIO visit complemented those of the other participating institutions by providing insight into how VHIO translates cutting-edge cancer research at laboratory level into more efficient, effective and precise treatments and diagnostics at patient level, real time.


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