ASCO 2011 Annual Meeting, 3—7 June 2011, Chicago
Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology; advancing personalized and targeted therapies against cancer
Professor José Baselga – Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA & Professor Josep Tabernero – Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology, Barcelona, Spain
Interviewed by Professor Gordon McVie
GM: José, Josep, welcome to ecancer.tv. There can be very little doubt that in the last five, six, seven, eight years one cancer institute has stood out in Europe and that has been yours, both of yours, Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona. I’m particularly excited to interview both of you, the Director who has just gone off to Massachusetts General and the Clinical Director who is now working on, because ecancer.tv has just become the journal of the OECI, the Organisation of European Cancer Institutes, which is, of course, yours too. How did you bring about this incredible translational group in Barcelona, José?
JB: Sometimes things just happen and what happened there is that we had a number of opportunities that all came together. So Vall d’Hebron is a terrific hospital, it’s one of the largest ones in Europe, a lot of patients, a very well-developed oncology department, good surgery, good radiation therapy. And then with Josep, and this was way back, we began to do clinical trials that were translational; we began to recruit scientists and it occurred to us we have everything that we need to create the institute that we always wanted to do and that was the birth of VHIO. We had, of course, the support from the local authorities so they let us do that because it’s important to have some level of independence in management. So we had to have independence in our budget, independence in our capacity to hire people, to engage with companies. So the VHIO, that institute, was the frame that allowed that to happen and it has been a phenomenal success. We have, as you know, many initiatives and it’s really nice to see this idea grow and blossom.
GM: And you’re leaving the institute most of the time to be in Boston but you’re leaving it in very good hands. There can’t be many translational science meetings that you’ve not been featured in, and Josep, you’re coming along incredibly well, we see you in the media, we see you doing things representing medical oncology, new drug development, phase I, new designs etc. Are you keeping your links from Mass Gen to Barcelona?
JB: One thing that we are engaging in is that Mass General and VHIO have a lot of points in common, that’s what attracted me. We are building already a number of initiatives, so we have joint platforms that we are working on, we have a number of clinical trials that we are co-developing and now we are engaging, so we have two big supporters that are going to fund a programme that’s going to be across Vall d’Hebron and MGH. We’re going to develop a biomarker platform that will be unified and the idea here is to try to find a synergy, this MGH/VHIO synergy is going to be one of the emerging stories in oncology today, so I’m very excited, this is fantastic.
GM: And training, Fellows?
JB: Yes, we have two programmes that we’re going to develop: one is going to be a joint biomarker platform and that’s one thing and the other is that we are about to sign an agreement in which we are going to be co-training Fellows. That’s going to be the best of both worlds.
GM: The world is shrinking.
JB: It is.
GM: Now, Josep, you’ve got a new building, Cellex, what’s it called? Tell us about it.
JT: We have the situation now that a private foundation called Cellex, this is a charity foundation, has given us a donation to create a new building for research. Basically it will be translational research but also clinical research and, in total, this will be 7,000 square metres devoted only to cancer research. So we are going to incorporate new equipment for the labs but also new stuff for clinical research and this is really a huge opportunity. As was mentioned before, this is really independent from the institution and from the hospital, this is really a success point.
GM: So there are almost eighty European cancer institutes in the OECI, what’s your advice to them setting up and doing a Vall d’Hebron again in Estonia or in Slav, or whatever.
JB: I think there are many opportunities, there are many opportunities across Europe, there are many good institutions. I think you need to have ideas, you need to have leaders, that’s important, and Josep is an example of that, but also you need to talk to people. If you were to bring up a new institute, my advice would be go out there and see already the institutes that are working and that’s what we did. We went out and visited all the sites that were doing this type of work and then tried to see what are the strengths that you can bring to the table because the beauty of Europe is that diversity actually enhances opportunity. So a person in Estonia could have a number of opportunities that nobody else has and then that’s it. And once you have this vision, just go for it, the field of cancer is very dynamic so I think there are going to be a number of years for tremendous growth in this type of research and we need that.
GM: And Vall d’Hebron is a partner in the EuroCan platform project, that’s the FP7 project, the big one where the top twenty cancer institutes in Europe are working together, doing the same sort of thing again, platforms, sharing knowledge, sharing information, disseminating and so on. That’s quite an exciting thing for you to come on and take a leadership in.
JT: Actually it is, as mentioned, for this particular programme several centres who are collaborating in the same dimension and with the same vision, basically to personalise medicine for patients with cancer. But not only this, this platform is one of the ones that we have achieved with the framework of the European Union FP7, so there is another one, studying, only specific work for personalised medicine in colorectal cancer. So several platforms are actually looking at this mission of personalising the treatment for patients.
GM: Thank you very much, both of you, for telling us the success of Vall d’Hebron. Good luck in Mass General in Boston, and you’re very lucky to have that hotline into the other side of the States. Once again, I think you’re showing us the way forward, both of you, and shrinking the world and putting your foot on the gas pedal, as they say over here in Chicago and making things happen a little bit faster. Thanks a lot, José, and thanks very much, Josep.