The WIN symposium is a new initiative to really foster collaborative work and, as the President of EORTC, we are actually in the business of collaboration of clinicians, basic researchers, in order to advance cancer therapies. EORTC is a member of WIN and in my function that was a pleasure now to actually attend.
What are some of EORTC’s activities?
EORTC has been around for fifty years, starting as a pioneering initiative of a few dedicated oncologists realising that in order to advance the cancer field that you need to work together. Out of that theme, this is up to today where we actually represent a group of 200 or more institutions across Europe dedicated to actually join forces in clinical research and translational research in order to advance cancer therapy and cancer care.
Can you tell us a little more about the SPECTA initiative?
As we’ve been moving ahead with better knowledge of biology, now we have to also use this knowledge in cancer therapy. So we have plenty of targeted treatments and we need platforms to actually define what are the best treatments for whatever patients. So the SPECTA platforms are platforms dedicated at molecularly characterising each patient’s tumour and each patient’s tissue, possibly also blood and so on, to subsequently define what treatment is most likely to benefit a certain patient.
Aside from colorectal cancer tumours, what other tumours are you looking at?
Colorectal cancer was the pioneering platform and we have over 200 samples already collected and this is ongoing, but we’re building a platform for brain tumours, for melanoma, for lung cancer, for prostate cancer and so we will slowly but surely cover the whole field of cancer and oncology.
How do you think these platforms will be applied?
The idea behind it is that we would actually test the tumours early on, with diagnosis, provide gene sequencing. We do that in collaboration with the Sanger Institute and we’ll then be able to actually, as the patients undergo first line, second line standard treatment, at some point direct patients to new agents specifically most likely to have a chance to work in their specific tumour.
What do the screening platforms entail?
The screening platforms involve a lot of technology and a lot of collaboration. It starts with quality assurance, look at the tissue pathology, the pathological confirmation of the diagnosis. It consists of extraction of DNA and RNA and subsequent definition of what markers you want to really test for or do a whole genome sequencing but then still focus on certain markers, markers for which actually we now have a drug and that are druggable.
What are some of the challenges?
One is that tissue has to move out of the initial institution so we need the pathologists to understand what we are doing and to collaborate and the pathologists are actually very willing to collaborate. So the tissue will go to a central lab who will do the first steps of analysis and confirmation and then will go to a subsequent lab for more molecular analysis. So timing is an issue, data protection is an issue, make sure that this is all anonymised adequately but you still need to be able, if you need to, to identify the individual patient. Money is a major challenge, how to finance all of this, so we are lucky enough that we have some charity money, some social responsibility money, to start us up but in the long run this is clearly… the healthcare system is asked to contribute and we believe that we can ultimately treat less patients with inefficient treatments and be more selective who gets what treatment and have better results overall.
Is EORTC collaborating with WIN on any other projects?
WIN is fostering the ideas and EORTC would be the operational arm. We can actually conduct trials that come out of WIN or ideas that come out of WIN. Right now the whole initiative of the collaboration with WIN is in its first year so we will see where this leads to. The idea behind all the organisations is the same, it’s international collaboration to the benefit of our patients.
Anything else you’d like to add?
What EORTC offers in addition to WIN is the infrastructure to actually run clinical trials at a multinational level in many countries all over Europe; be able to have collaboration, established networks, who can actually provide the needed quality. It’s all abstracted in a way, in a database that is used for registration which is fully compliant with what the agencies need. So it’s an efficient way of collaboration to actually get new drugs, potential new treatments and ideas up and going as quick as possible for the benefit of the patient.