IMI Impact: Beating cancer – together (Guest blog)
With €190 million invested since 2008, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is advancing the fight against cancer
Cancer remains one of the biggest challenges of an ageing society as, despite significant progress in recent decades, many cancers are still incurable. The IMI has supported 12 major projects that are catalysing oncology research in three ways: increasing understanding of cancer biology, advancing personalised medicine, and involving patients in the development of novel therapeutics.
Scientists, physicians and bioinformatics experts, along with patient advocates and specialists in market access and regulatory affairs, are working together to improve the lives of people living with cancer. Together, they are ensuring that state-of-the-art oncology research and development has a data-driven, personalised and patient-centred focus.
To develop new therapies that significantly prolong survival and improve quality of life, a continuously better understanding of the biology of cancer is vital. Given the scale of the challenge, collaborative networks play a key role in harnessing the expertise required to understand the molecular mechanisms, e.g., in tumour immunology and resistance to treatment.
For example, IMMUCAN aims to identify biomarkers that indicate whether patients are responding to certain combinations of cancer drugs with a special focus on immune-oncology therapeutics, while imSAVAR is working to accelerate immunotherapy research by predicting the safety and efficacy of such medicines in development.
The PREDECT project built preclinical models of lung, breast and prostate tissue to help scientists understand how these cancer cells might work – and which normal cellular processes were disrupted or changed to allow malignant growth. ITCC-P4 is developing new experimental tumour models to support research on the 10 most common childhood cancers.
These consortia brought together numerous experts from different fields to work, filling knowledge gaps and paving the way for further progress in cancer therapy.
The future of oncology will be more patient-centred with the individual patient and their particular cancer at the centre of treatment decisions. New technologies and the use of “Big Data” will help physicians to offer the right treatment to the right patient at the right time, to improve the individual and overall outcomes from currently available and future treatment opportunities.
Novel technologies, such as improved sequencing methods, allow more detailed analyses, leading to a better understanding of the individual disease, earlier and better diagnosis of patients, and more targeted and individualised treatments. This will unlock the potential of patient group stratification: treatments will be selected according to biological characteristics rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach.
IMI has been at the forefront of this personalised, data-driven revolution for more than a decade. OncoTrack was one of the first major projects to use “Big Data” and modelling to improve stratification of colon cancer patients. Its database allows researchers to study how tumours respond to treatment and may help doctors choose the right medication for their patients.
This approach has been taken to the next level by a range of projects launched under the “BigData4BetterOutcomes (BD4BO)” programme. BD4BO is a major initiative which has been started to create significantly large data pools. The overall goal using this data is to guide treatment decisions and further research in disease areas such as prostate cancer (i.e., the PIONEER project) and various haematological malignancies (i.e., the HARMONY project).
IMI has also advanced diagnostics and disease monitoring through the development of liquid biopsy tests and the use of medical imaging (PET and MRI scans) to determine whether cancer drugs are working. These approaches are less invasive than previous ways of investigating cancer cells.
While the range of tools and technologies for oncology research is wide, all cancer researchers have a shared goal: improving the lives of people with cancer. This goal is significantly driven by the fact that the patients are the ones knowing and experiencing every day what it means to live with cancer. IMI is actively supporting patient involvement in research and development of new treatments. Including measures such as individual patient-reported-outcomes (PROs) and health-related-quality-of-life (HRQOLs) may support and accelerate clinical testing as well as the launching of new and improved treatment modalities.
Through projects such as EUPATI, EFOEUPATI, PARADIGM, and SISAQOL-IMI, IMI is consistently supporting the aim of including patients as partners throughout the whole R&D process. This also includes the parents of children who are living with cancer. In particular, the C4C project was launched to ensure that the voices of Europe’s youngest patients (and their parents) are heard.
Looking to the futureIn summary, IMI has, for more than a decade, laid the groundwork for significant advances in oncology by combining forces from various angles and investing heavily in science. In the centre of these activities are the networks of experts from various disciplines across Europe. This includes not only scientists or physicians, but the patients themselves, who are all working together to shape the future of oncology research and development, and to achieve better outcomes for all across Europe.