EU´s Horizon 2020 backs nanomedicine to potentiate therapy against pancreatic cancer

Nano-based drug delivery and anti-cancer therapy have shown great promise in recent years as potential novel weaponry in our arsenal of anti-cancer technologies. Nanotherapeutics involves the utilization of nanoparticles that can better target and more precisely combat cancer cells.

While many studies have advanced the underlying technology towards developing powerful nanomedicines, very few have successfully been translated to the clinic so far. Nevertheless, the increasing body of evidence validating the effectiveness of nanomedicine approaches for cancer treatment provides optimism that they will soon improve outcomes for patients.

The recently launched €7-million initiative by the NoCanTher Consortium — Nanomedicine upscaling for early clinical phases of multimodal cancer therapy (fuelled by Horizon 2020* funding) — promises to deliver on these ambitions. Led by IMDEA Nanoscience (Madrid, Spain), NoCanTher represents an important forward step towards the clinic building on the preclinical successes reported by the former Multifun Consortium (funded by the former EU 7th Framework Programme of Research and Development).

These studies evidenced the efficacy of a novel multi-modal therapeutic approach based on functionalized magnetic nanoparticles and magnetic hyperthermia for the intra-tumoral treatment of both breast and pancreatic tumors.

By assessing the safety of this nano-based approach and providing crucial preliminary data on its efficacy in humans, NoCanTher will successfully translate nanomedicine research at the preclinical level into early clinical development for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

´The NoCanTher Phase I Trial will represent an essential forward step in ringing in more potentially less toxic, more effective, and less costly nanotechnology-based therapies at the clinical level´, observes Josep Tabernero, Director of VHIO.

The NoCanTher multi-center consortium comprises five Spanish partners – VHIO, the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), the Vall d´Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), Biopraxis, and IMDEA Nanoscience — in partnership with colleagues at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), Jena University Hospital (Germany), Paris Diderot University (France), Resonant Circuits Ltd. (UK), Immupharma Plc (UK), and Chemicell GmbH (Germany). The consortium will drive the preclinical proof-of-concept evidenced in animal models towards the clinic, with the aim of more effectively combating pancreatic cancer. Advancing more powerful therapies against this disease is particularly pressing as pancreatic cancer often goes undetected until advanced stages of disease, severely limiting treatment options for these patients.

NoCanTher´s strategy consists of firstly scaling up the nanoformulation of a trio of components: combining an anti-cancer nucleolin antagonist peptide (N6L) that fosters nanoparticle internalization into targeted tumor cells together with proven anti-cancer properties; an intracellular delivery of the chemotherapeutic gemcitabine used in first-line treatment of pancreatic cancer; and magnetic hyperthermia to inactivate tumor cells and achieve tumor shrinkage. Importantly, the intracellular delivery of therapy also reduces the adverse effects associated with chemotherapy.

Step two will involve testing anti-cancer activity of the nanoparticles in patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models before rolling out to a Phase I trial designed and coordinated by Teresa Macarulla, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Researcher of VHIO´s Gastrointestinal & Endocrine Tumors Group (directed by Josep Tabernero), in collaboration with colleagues at the CNIO and Biopraxis. Patients will be enrolled across three different clinical sites led by VHIO.

´We are seeing more and more advances driven by nano-based drug delivery and cancer medicine against some of the most difficult-to-treat tumor types including pancreatic cancer. This powerful multi-center European Consortium incorporates outstanding partners who will collectively raise the bar in driving nano-based therapeutics to the clinic´
, concludes VHIO´s Teresa Macarulla.


*Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation program to-date totaling at almost €80 billion of funding over 7 years (2014-2020).

For more information surrounding VHIO´s participation in the NoCanTher Consortium please contact: Amanda Wren, Director of Communications, Vall d´Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), Tel: +34 695 207 886, Email:


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