The Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC): spurring VHIO research and improved therapeutic strategies against cancer

Barcelona, September 15, 2015– We can only hope to collectively accelerate the pace in advancing more precisely targeted therapies against cancer through continued support and investment in the research that drives such discovery. Securing continued support from funding entities such as the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC), is therefore imperative.

Officially announced today by the AECC, funding this year totals at 6.7 million EUR to finance international cancer research of excellence conducted in Spain. Projects awarded by the AECC, through its Scientific Foundation, include two VHIO studies to be carried out by Cristina Cruz, Staff Scientist of VHIO´s High Risk & Cancer Prevention Group led by Judith Balmaña, and Stephan Tenbaum, Postdoctoral Scientist, the Stem Cells & Cancer Group at VHIO, headed by Héctor G. Palmer. Aimed at ultimately improving anti-cancer therapies and outcomes for patients, the two studies will focus on the Identification of poor prognosis molecular factors in BRCA-related breast cancer and the study of new therapeutic strategies and Therapeutic inhibition of the oncogenic Wnt/ß-catenin pathway in colorectal cancer, respectively.

Supporting VHIO to advance research into the most aggressive hereditary breast cancer

This first project, to be carried out by VHIO´s High Risk & Cancer Prevention Group, led by Judith Balmaña, will aim at improved survival in hereditary breast cancer through a better molecular understanding of BRCA tumors, as well as develop more effective alternative therapies to reduce the risk of recurrence in patients with refractory tumors.

Research will explore breast cancer triggered by hereditary mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes via an in-depth analysis of the molecular characteristics of these tumors and their ability to repair DNA. “Tumors that respond well to available curative treatments will be compared to those that persist despite therapy”, explains Cristina Cruz, an investigator funded by the AECC, and head of the project. “The data obtained will facilitate the design of novel therapies that overcome this limitation, as well as evaluate efficacy using experimental models”, she concludes.

Hereditary breast cancer, principally caused by mutations in these genes, generally affects young women, and, in the case of BRCA1 (which is often the tumor subtype known as triple-negative breast cancer), is particularly aggressive. The essential function of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is to repair damage to DNA in the body’s cells. Tumors generated by a mutation of these genes have a reduced ability to repair DNA, so chemotherapy based on agents that damage DNA is usually effective against these tumors. However, despite being treated with surgery and chemotherapy, some patients eventually present disease recurrence.

AECC funding to fuel research into metastatic colorectal cancer

The AECC will also support VHIO´s Stem Cells and Cancer Group directed by Héctor G. Palmer to further explore the relationship between oncogenic Wnt/ß-catenin pathway activation and the high resistance of advanced colorectal tumors to most currently available therapies. This will enable the establishment of a panel of molecular abnormalities that predict the response of colorectal tumors to cutting-edge Wnt/ß-catenin inhibitors that could be validated in currently open clinical trials with these drugs at the Vall d´Hebron University Hospital (HUVH).

“Sporadic mutations in certain genes cause the onset and progression of tumors in colonic tissue. During the progressive development of the tumors, associated with these mutations, there is an abnormal increase in Wnt/ß-catenin pathway activity. In certain molecular scenarios, this promotes tumor resistance to experimental therapy in clinical studies” explains Stephan Tenbaum, the funded project’s Principal Investigator. In addition to being resistant to a wide range of anti-cancer therapies at advanced stage of disease, colorectal tumors are known to easily cause metastasis. Due to this, colorectal cancer is the third cause of death from cancer worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are almost 1,400,000 cases a year.

It is thanks to the continued support of the AECC that VHIO researchers can continue to both establish and develop the lines of research that are defined to respond to some of the many challenges and yet unanswered questions that still remain in our collective battle against cancer. More specifically, this year´s AECC funding, to be awarded during the official AECC institutional ceremony in Burgos on 23 September, will enable VHIO to continue to pioneer studies aimed at reverting resistance in colorectal cancer as well as improve survival of cancer with a typically poor prognosis through a better understanding of the molecular make-up of BRCA-associated breast cancer in order to develop alternative, more effective therapies to reduce the risk of recurrence in refractory tumors.

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For more information:

Amanda Wren · Director of Communication, the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) · Tel. +34 695 207 886 awren@vhio.net

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