Joining forces to support cancer research in Luxembourg

The FNR and Fondation Cancer have signed a multi-year collaboration agreement from 2020 to 2023, aimed at developing and intensifying cooperation. In this context, four cancer research projects were selected for funding in 2020, a total commitment of 2.8 MEUR.

It is research that is important for our patients. It gives hope. All of my patients in consultation ask me about new avenues, new drugs that are coming on the market. Only by promoting research can we move forward.” – Dr Carole Bauer, President of the Fondation Cancer

“We bring our expertise in evaluating research projects according to strict quality criteria. For its part, Fondation Cancer is obviously very well connected with health professionals and, above all, with patients. For us, this represents a unique opportunity to make cancer research in Luxembourg known and promoted to these groups, who are directly concerned.” – Marc Schiltz, Secretary General of the FNR

The FNR and Fondation Cancer have a long-standing collaboration already: over the years, the FNR has previously assisted the charity in its review process, to help ensure a high quality of projects. In 2018/19, the FNR and Fondation Cancer co-funded the LIH-based project ‘Improving T-cell and Macrophage Immune checkpoint blockades, combining autophagy inhibitors (COMBATIC)’, which aims to improve the effectiveness of immune checkpoint inhibitors in patients who have not previously been eligible for immunotherapy (PIs: Dr Bassam Janji and Dr Guy Berchem).

The agreement between FNR and Fondation Cancer (FC) means researchers applying to the FNR’s CORE programme can have their cancer research projects considered for co-funding from FC. From the 2020 CORE Call, four projects have been awarded such co-funding:

GLASS-LUX: Towards personalised treatment of recurrent brain tumours (Prof Simone Niclou, Luxembourg Institute of Health)

GLASS-LUX (Glioma Longitudinal AnalySiS in Luxembourg: ex vivo and in vivo Functional Profiling of Recurrent Gliomas), will be launched in spring 2021, for a duration of 36 months. The project aims to characterise the molecular and genetic differences between primary and recurrent brain tumours, and test their differential responses to a broad selection of both novel and existing drugs. This will enable the prediction of personalised treatment options for recurrent glioma patients after the standard of care has been unsuccessful. FNR and Fondation Cancer jointly support the project with 850,000 EUR.

EVIL: Reprogramming of the leukemic microenvironment by small extracellular vesicles: from characterization to therapeutic application (Dr Jérôme Paggetti, Luxembourg Institute of Health)

This three-year project, set to start in September 2021, will specifically investigate the exact mechanisms through which small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) – small ‘vessels’ normally released by cells and involved in intercellular communication processes – can induce tumour development and progression in vivo, in the context of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), using mice models. In addition to studying the composition of sEVs and the mechanisms enabling their uptake in various types of cells, the team will test inhibitors or neutralising antibodies to block their negative effects in vivo in mice. Moreover, they will study the functional impact of sEVs on the immune system to understand how they promote tumour evasion, as well as their role in altering the metabolic activity of target cells, thereby paving the way for the development of innovative immunotherapies. FNR and Fondation Cancer jointly support this project with 563,000 EUR.

TIME-CLL: Characterisation of the tumour and its microenvironment in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (Dr Etienne Moussay, Luxembourg Institute of Health)

The three-year project, set to start in September 2021, will look at the interactions between immune cells and their microenvironment in the lymph nodes of CLL patients. The team will focus on a specific subset of immune cells, regulatory T lymphocytes (Tregs), which act as a ‘brake’ on the immune system by dampening the immune response. Dr Moussay and his team had previously identified Tregs as being particularly activated in CLL patients, thereby reducing the anti-cancer response and promoting disease progression. TIME-CLL will therefore shed light into the interactions between leukemic B cells and T cells and unravel the mechanisms underlying the over activation of Tregs in CLL patients, with the goal of devising novel therapeutic strategies to inhibit them and restore an optimal anti-tumour immunity. As part of the study, the researchers will also set-up a patient-derived xenograft mouse model from primary patient-derived CLL cells to test innovative combinatorial therapies in vivo. FNR and Fondation Cancer jointly support this project with 571,000 EUR.

MICROH_CRC: Investigating the role of the microbiome in colorectal cancer (University of Luxembourg)

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is still a major health problem worldwide with more than 600,000 deaths per year. Bacteria in the gut have recently been suggested to be an important factor in CRC. However, it is not yet clear whether changes in bacteria are a cause or a consequence of CRC.

Furthermore, external factors such as dietary habits and lifestyle have been shown to influence the bacteria in the gut. This project will address two major questions. 1) Whether bacterial changes in CRC are responsible for tumour initiation and progression and if yes, which bacteria participate in these processes. 2) The team will analyse whether dietary regimens impact CRC outcome and which mechanisms can explain the observations. Altogether, this project will help to understand host-microbiome interaction in CRC, and will allow for the moving towards the development of dietary guidelines for CRC patients. The FNR and Fondation Cancer jointly support this project with 863,000 EUR.

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