SUPPRESSTEM, five institutes and pharmaceutical companies join forces against cancer

ICREA researcher Eduard Batlle heads one of the work packages
ICREA researcher Eduard Batlle heads one of the work packages

Each year about 330,000 Europeans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, a disease with a mortality rate of 44%. Many of the new treatments fail in clinical assays, and colorectal cancer metastasis is largely incurable

Europe has given the go ahead to the SUPPRESSTEM consortium to validate new treatments against colorectal cancer, the third most frequent kind of cancer worldwide. The objective is to find therapeutic antibodies directed exclusively against colorectal cancer stem cells, the cells responsible for promoting tumor growth. The consortium will receive a 6-million euro funding package from the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union. The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), though ICREA researcher Eduard Batlle’s group, forms part of the project, together with reference institutes like the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (UK) and the Hubrecht Institute (The Netherlands), and the Dutch pharmaceutical companies OcellO B.V. and Merus B. V., the latter coordinating the initiative.

From June until 2016, SUPPRESSTEM will address the mechanisms that allow tumor cells to resist drugs and to survive treatments, a problem that has led to the failure of many therapies in the past. Furthermore, the consortium will be a pioneer in the use of patients’ tissue for drug development. The breakthrough will be useful to predict with greater accuracy from the laboratory whether a drug has potential for the treatment of patients. When this technique has been fine-tuned, it will be applicable for other types of cancer and disease.

As part of the consortium, Batlle’s team will be in charge of carrying out the initial study of the samples extracted from patients and after for testing if the antibodies work in mice. Once the best candidates have been identified, their mechanisms of action will be analyzed in order to optimize their activity. The general objectives of the consortium are to find new treatments for cancer and to establish a new strategy that allows researchers to determine whether a drug is efficient before initiating clinical trials, a multimillion euro investment.