Establishing a world-class translational cancer center
Madrid – Spain has started an offensive to cut the time from bench to clinic. In mid-June, Science Minister Cristina Garmendia signed a contract with President of Madrid Esperanza Aguirre and Mariano Barbacid, the director of Spain’s National Cancer Center (CNIO) to establish a new CNIO “Clinical Research Programme” at the Madrid-based hospital of Fuenlabrada. The programme, which will be led by Manuel Hidalgo from John Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore), a specialist in gastrointestinal cancer, will focus on translational cancer research – the transfer of experimental therapies from animal models to patients.
To accomplish this, three units – a clinical research unit in which new drugs can be tested on 1,500 patients per year, a diagnostic imaging unit and a cancer genomics unit – will work with researchers from the CNIO. One goal will be to identify and clinically validate biomarkers that indicate cancer disease progression. That could in turn offer novel cancer approaches to late-stage cancer patients, and optimise chemotherapy and targeted therapies to individuals. Another goal will be to identify relevant cancer genes by high-throughput sequencing of patient DNA in order to find novel pathways that could be targeted by small molecules or biologicals.
Barbacid said that the programme is “a pioneer in Spain” and that it would make Fuenlabrada one of the world’s top-10 centres for preclinical cancer research. In its five-year strategic plan, the CNIO has defined the goals of its new clinical units there for the design, implementation and analysis of Phase I and II clinical studies with novel anti-tumorigenic agents. The center wants to hire researchers with a focus on late preclinical drug development, pharmacokinetics, biomarker discovery and molecular imaging, and also join forces with external research groups. In a first sucess, German oncologist Christopher Heeschen from the University Munich has agreed to coordinate a group examining cancer stem cells in order to develop strategies to destroy them.
Initial funding will come from Spain’s Ministries of Science and Innovation, Health and Social Policy as well as Madrid’s health authorities. The Caja Madrid foundation will donate state-of-the-art equipment to the project.