New clinical study in breast cancer with an immuno-oncology component receives 1.5M € funding – Cancer IO researchers involved in the study

Funding supports a new investigator-initiated breast cancer clinical trial in Finland that takes on MYC oncogene.

Cancer IO personnel played a major role in the upcoming clinical trial: Juha Klefström and Heidi Haikala were the investigators behind the pre-clinical findings, and Jeroen Pouwels was responsible for the biomarker study planning.

Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation awarded 1.5 million € to support a VeMA clinical breast cancer study scheduled to start in HUS Comprehensive Cancer Center already this year. The clinical trial is among the first to use MYC oncoprotein as a diagnostic biomarker for patient selection. VeMA is an Investigator-Initiated Study, collaboratively designed by investigators of the Helsinki University Hospital and University of Helsinki.

VeMA is an early phase clinical trial in metastatic breast cancer setting, which tests the safety of a new combination treatment regimen that includes two targeted therapy agents combined with an immunotherapy agent anti-PD-L1. The study is expected to find the right dosage for further studies and biomarkers that can be used to guide patient selection with improved precision and to monitor treatment responses.

The principal clinical investigator, Director and Chief Oncologist Johanna Mattson, HUS Comprehensive Cancer Center, comments: “We are truly excited to start VeMA in HUS, since the biologic rationale for the study comes from an excellent research laboratory working next door in the Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki. VeMA study is a beautiful example of translational research, that is a process where scientific discoveries made with cancer cells and animal models in a research laboratory serve as grounds for a clinical concept that will be tested with the patients in the hospital. In this way scientific discoveries have straightforward potential to help the cancer patients.”

“VeMA study is a beautiful example of translational research, that is a process where scientific discoveries made with cancer cells and animal models in a research laboratory serve as grounds for a clinical concept that will be tested with the patients”

The study co-Investigator, Research Director Juha Klefström, Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki continues: “VeMA has been totally handcrafted as a local collaboration between us and the HUS Comprehensive Cancer Center. MYC oncoprotein drives abnormal pattern of cell proliferation in about half of the breast cancer cases. However, at the same time, MYC renders cells extremely vulnerable to apoptotic cell death, which is a form of cell suicide. The key question that has inspired my work for decades is – Can we somehow exploit this inherent apoptotic vulnerability of MYC expressing cancer cells in design of new therapies that would selectively kill cancer cell but leave normal cell unharmed. Now we are for the first time about to test this concept with MYC to help women suffering from breast cancer .”

“Now we are for the first time about to test this concept with MYC to help women suffering from breast cancer .”

Typically, most clinical cancer trials are designed and funded by pharmaceutical industry. Who pays the scientist-invented clinical cancer trials? Both Mattson and Klefström stress that setting up an Investigator-Initiated Study or IIS is a laborious and time-consuming process, since the investigators need not only to design the trial by themselves but they also need to find funding from public sources to support the study. “We are extremely thankful for Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation for the grant since only now we can be sure that the VeMA study can be started as planned. We are also thankful for many other key public funders of the study, which include Finnish Cancer Organizations, Sigrid Juselius Foundation, FICAN-South and iCAN Digital Precision Cancer Medicine Flagship. We need skilled researchers in clinical and biomarker teams to carry out the study and sufficient funding to cover not only the salaries but also hospital costs and biomarker analyses. We have also received a significant contribution from Pharma who donates all three drugs to the study for free.”

Further information:

Juha Klefström, Research Director, Medical Faculty, University of Helsinki

Tel.+358 44 377 3876 e-mail juha.klefstrom(at)helsinki.fi

Johanna Mattson, Physician-in-Chief and Director, HUS Comprehensive Cancer Center

Tel. + 358 50 427 9165 e-mail johanna.mattson(at)hus.fi

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