Announced last week, the third edition of the CaixaImpulse call – a funding program created by the Fundació Bancària la Caixa and Caixa Capital Risk to spur the transfer of scientific discovery of excellence into real benefits to society through patents, new business and technology transfer agreements, has awarded a total of 3.5 million EUR to support the development of 23 selected projects that promise significant advancements in biomedicine and biotechnology across a variety of life sciences. To-date this program has invested 5.5 million euros promoting 58 initiatives, 2 of which are now spin-offs and 5 are ´in progress´.
Aimed at more successfully and rapidly transferring knowledge from the laboratory to the market, CaixaImpulse provides each of the winning projects with a grant of up to 70,000 EUR, to help guide value assessment and commercialization as well as a mentoring program as part of an 8-month support framework offering participants expert mentoring, training and opportunities for essential networking in order to promote their projects.
Among the important number of projects originating from Catalonia – a total of 14 out of the 23 selected this year, VHIO has been awarded CaixaImpulse funding to support the development and commercialization of PARPiPRED – a companion diagnostic test for target therapy with PARP inhibitors in breast and ovarian cancer.
Several types of cancer show defects in the DNA repair machinery. DNA-damaging chemotherapy and targeted therapy with the novel PARP inhibitors (PARPi) are effective treatment options in these cases. PARPi drugs have been approved for ovarian cancer and are in advanced clinical development for breast cancer. However, in order to ensure efficacy it is key to accurately discriminate tumours with defective (versus adequate) DNA damage response. Thus, the identification of reliable biomarkers of PARPi response would greatly improve patient’s life, reducing current unnecessary overtreatments, side-effects and healthcare costs.
Breast and ovarian cancers are prevalent medical conditions, with more than 1.7M and 0.2M new cases diagnosed each year. Of these, about 10% of breast and 24% of ovarian cancers are hereditary and caused by mutations in genes used by the cell to repair DNA damage. While these tumors are expected to be more sensitive to PARPi drugs, available tests to select patients for PARPi treatment show a limited positive predictive value, with over half of the patients not responding. Therefore, there is a need to develop novel predictive tools to accurately identify which patients are likely to respond to these treatments.
VHIO´s PARPiPRED project is set to do just that:
Led by Alba Llop, Post-Doctoral Fellow of VHIO´s Experimental Therapeutics Group, the goal of the project is to develop a routine clinical test to more precisely select patients who will most likely benefit from novel PARPi therapies. Not only will PARPiPRED´s pairing of an in vitro diagnostic test with an imaging tool automate image analysis, score calculation and create patient reports with treatment recommendations, it also promises rapid application to routine clinical practice. PARPiPRED could also accelerate the clinical approval of PARPi for other tumor types and even predict responses to other DNA-damaging agents, such as platinum therapy, novel agents and combinatorial therapy.
In addition to VHIO´s leading research aimed at identifying clinical biomarkers of sensitivity to PARP inhibitors, thanks to the combined expertise of its High Risk and Cancer Prevention Group, led by Judith Balmaña, Breast Cancer and Melanoma Group, headed by Cristina Saura, and Experimental Therapeutics Group, directed by Violeta Serra (all whom are also team members of the PARPiPRED project along with Cristina Cruz and Marta Castroviejo, Medical Oncologist and Graduate Student of VHIO´s Experimental Therapies Group respectively, and Carlos López, Business Development Manager at VHIO), our Institute also pioneers research to establish mechanisms of resistance to these novel therapies as well assess drug-drug combinations tested preclinically in PDX models in order to develop more effective anti-cancer therapies.
Team photo (left to right): Marta Castroviejo, Violeta Serra, Alba Llop, Judith Balmaña, Cristina Cruz and Carlos López.