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Science of excellence against metastatic cancer




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  • IRB Barcelona receives €2 million from the Spanish Association Against Cancer to tackle metastasis, the main cause of death in cancer patients.
  • The AECC Excellence Programme: Metastasis aims to develop therapeutic tools that allow the diagnosis and treatment of metastasis in a targeted manner.

Barcelona, 20 November 2023 - The Spanish Association Against Cancer and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) announce a pioneering partnership to address one of the most pressing challenges in cancer research: metastasis. The spread of cancer cells from the primary tumour to other organs, a process known as metastasis, is responsible for more than 90% of cancer deaths. Despite great advances in research in recent decades, understanding of the underlying mechanisms in the late stages of cancer is limited and this has led to a lack of effective therapies to treat metastasis.

The AECC Excellence Programme, run by the Spanish Association Against Cancer, has awarded IRB Barcelona €2 million over 4 years. Ten IRB Barcelona laboratories, including those led by Dr. Eduard Batlle, Dr. Núria López-Bigas, Dr. Fran Supek,  Dr. Salvador Aznar Benitah, Dr. Roger Gomis, Dr. Direna Alonso-Curbelo, Dr. Alejo Rodríguez Fraticelli, Dr. Ángel Nebreda, Dr. Cristina Mayor-Ruiz and Dr. Antoni Riera.

"It is an honour to receive the support of the Spanish Association  Against Cancer to carry out this cutting-edge research in the field of metastasis. A greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying the spread of cancer to other organs is essential to develop more effective treatment strategies and, ultimately, help save lives," said Dr. Francesc Posas, director of IRB Barcelona.

"This collaboration between the Association and IRB Barcelona demonstrates their joint commitment to promote research of excellence in the fight against cancer. Metastasis is a challenge but we are determined to advance in its understanding and treatment. The Association has set an objective, namely to increasing research funding year on year, in addition to promoting excellence and fostering a science ecosystem in Spain in order to continue working towards 70% cancer survival by 2030," said Isabel Orbe, director general of the Spanish Association Against Cancer and its Scientific Foundation.

The Spanish Association Against Cancer has awarded only three Excellence Projects of these characteristics in the country.


Excellence in Research: the key to beating cancer

The project led by IRB Barcelona is based on its outstanding track record in metastasis research. The project will address metastasis through a multidisciplinary approach that uses advanced computational tools, patient samples, organoids, and specific models of the main types of cancer. Researchers will focus on four types of cancer, namely colorectal cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

The first objective of the programme is to advance knowledge in three key fields. 

  1. Unravel residual disease, that is to say, understand the genomic features of the cells that escape the primary tumour, travel through the body, and are capable of forming new tumours.
  2. Decipher the mechanisms that allow them to become resistant to treatments, considering aspects of cell plasticity.
  3. Address the mechanisms used by metastasis to evade the immune system and analyse specific features of distinct moments during the development of the disease and distinct tissues. 

The second objective is to apply the knowledge generated strategically to the development of innovative prognostic and therapeutic strategies in the fight against metastasis.

"Our goal is to increase scientific knowledge in the key areas of residual disease, therapy resistance and immune evasion, and translate that knowledge into innovative therapeutic strategies. We are committed to moving towards a future where metastasis is understood and combated with unprecedented precision," explains Dr. Eduard Batlle, head of the Cancer Programme at IRB Barcelona.


An important step in the fight against cancer

The partnership between the Spanish Association Against Cancer and IRB Barcelona represents a significant step in the fight against cancer. Metastasis continues to be a major challenge in cancer treatment, and this research project of excellence will help to unravel the mysteries behind this critical stage of the disease.

Excellence in research is critical for addressing the challenges of cancer and improving patient care. According to statements by their representatives, the Spanish Association Against Cancer and IRB Barcelona are proud to contribute to this joint effort and look forward to the advances that this top-level research project will bring about.


About IRB Barcelona

The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) pursues a society free of disease. To this end, it conducts multidisciplinary research of excellence to cure cancer and other diseases linked to ageing. It establishes technology transfer agreements with the pharmaceutical industry and major hospitals to bring research results closer to society, and organises a range of science outreach activities to engage the public in an open dialogue. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 researchers and more than 30 nationalities. Recognised as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence since 2011, IRB Barcelona is a CERCA centre and member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).