Event Report: How is research in Ireland addressing the challenges of bowel cancer?

COLOSSUS, one of MErCuRIC’s “Related Projects” recently hosted a public event in Dublin and invited Coordinator Sandra Van Schaeybroeck to participate.

Professor Annette Byrne, Head of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RSCI) Precision Cancer Medicine Group and Coordinator of the EC funded multi-million Euro Colorectal Cancer Research Programme COLOSSUS hosted and chaired the event at the RCSI on the 30th April 2019 in Dublin.   The meeting provided a fitting finale to Bowel Cancer Awareness Month throughout Europe.  She welcomed a packed audience and introduced three keynote speakers.

Coordinator of the MErCuRIC Project, Dr Sandra Van Schaeybroeck from Queen’s University, Belfast gave a comprehensive and enthralling lecture which summarised the aetiology of bowel cancer and provided current statistics on its prevalence in Europe and throughout the world.  She elaborated on current treatment options and new clinical approaches to the four stages of the disease.  The importance of early screening was emphasised given the lower survival rates from the more advanced stages, particularly Stage 4 where the cancer has spread to major organs such as the liver.  For example, 6 out of 10 colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women over 50 years of age were screened routinely using the newest techniques.  Additionally, the removal of precancerous polyps reduced the probability of contracting colon cancer by 70%.

A major research challenge internationally has been to improve the survival outcome of stage 4 patients with genetic aberrations in KRAS/BRAF genes.  These patients are often resistant to historical chemotherapy options.  The MErCuRIC study, a major European collaboration between several countries, including the UK, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Czech Republic and Ireland, is investigating a unique combination therapy of immunotherapy and chemotherapy in order to treat patients with the above aberrations.  The project is now in Phase 2 and 82 patients have been recruited.

The next speaker, Dr Ian Miller (RCSI), delineated exciting new research work in their laboratories where there has been a particular focus on new developments in the search for more sensitive and specific biomarkers in order to predict particular types of colorectal cancer.  This lecture complemented the work of the previous speaker in stressing the importance of more precise identification of biomarkers which had the potential to pinpoint more effective therapies for the treatment and control of bowel cancer.

The final speaker, Dr Orla Casey (Cancer Trials Ireland), detailed the comprehensive programme of research which they had supported in recent years.  Additional to a large number of major clinical trials, there had been considerable effort expended on translational studies typified, for example, by the COLOSSUS study outlined by the Chairperson, Professor Annette Byrne, at the beginning of the session.  Biobank studies were continuing to prove of extreme value in making the most effective and efficient use of large datasets that were already available from patients.

The event, organised by Danielle Nicholson of Pintail Limited with assistance from Dr Alice O’Farrell (RCSI), was a major success and captivated a very attentive audience of health professionals and patients.  Dr Ed Goodall of Digestive Cancers Europe (DiCE) and the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Forum (NICRF) Patient Advocacy Representative commented, ‘The event did indeed provide a fitting finale to Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.  For Health Authorities the message was clear and explicit.  Instigate screening programmes for all male and females over 50 years of age and back them up with comprehensive awareness campaigns for potential patients.  Secondly, support the exciting research being conducted in our major universities prevent, diagnose and treat more effectively the various types and stages of colorectal cancer’.

Ed Goodall and Margaret Grayson catch up before the event

Sandra Van Schaeybroeck, Queen’s University Belfast at the speaker’s podium

Annette Byrne, RCSI and COLOSSUS Coordinator thanks speakers and attendees

MErCuRIC exhibits at PPI Strategy launch, Belfast

Information about PPI in the MErCuRIC study was displayed at a public event launching the NI Cancer Trials Network (NICTN) and NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum (NICRCF) new 5 year Strategy for Personal and Public Involvement in Cancer Research in Northern Ireland.  Around 85 research staff, patient representatives and members of the public attended the event on 26 March 2018, held in the Postgraduate Centre of the Belfast City Hospital.

Speakers and panel members with some NICRCF members, 26 March 2019

The event, chaired by Margaret Grayson, MErCuRIC patient representative, included a range of researcher and NICRCF speakers.  One of the presentations, by Dr Philip Dunne, Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, QUB, looked at the role of the research laboratory in personalised medicine in bowel cancer.

Feedback was very positive about the event, which included participation from a number of charities and organisations providing information stands.  The NICTN and NICRCF look forward to feedback about the strategy during a 3 month consultation period.    

#mybest10seconds campaign

On the 28th of February 2019, EuropaColon/Digestive Cancers Europe (DICE), one of MErCuRIC’s Related Organisations launched a pan European Colorectal Cancer Screening Awareness Campaign: #mybest10seconds #ECCAM2019.

The aim of the campaign is to reach as many citizens across Europe in order to promote the importance of colorectal cancer screening for those over 50 years of age. So if this is you, then Get Screened… it only takes 10 seconds to take the test which could save your life!

If you are younger than 50 consider your family members, friends and colleagues. Visit the EuropaColon/DICE Official Campaign Microsite where you will find a symptom checker. If you are experiencing the symptoms mentioned, go and see your family doctor.

To reach their goal, they need our help. If you have any questions please contact them info@digstivecancers.eu 

For more information, visit:

Campaign Press Release

CRC White Paper

ECCAM2019 Memes

MErCuRIC Coordinator joins forces for Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2019

Prof. Sandra Van Schaeybroeck from Queen’s University Belfast, the Coordinator of the MErCuRIC project will join researchers involved in the COLOSSUS Project to facilitate a public forum in Dublin on 30 April 2019. In Ireland, April is “Bowel Cancer Awareness Month”. The event: “Colorectal Cancer- How is research in Ireland addressing the challenges?” will take place at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) from 18:30- 19:30. Prof Van Schaeybroeck’s talk is entitled “Current treatment options and clinical research approaches“. Sandra will provide a clinicians point of view and discuss the personalized medicine approach to treating colorectal, or bowel cancer. Other speakers include Prof Annette Byrne, Head of the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group & Coordinator of the COLOSSUS Project, Dr Ian Miller, RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group and Dr Verena Murphy, Translational Research Leader at Cancer Trials Ireland.  

One of MErCuRIC’s Related Projects, COLOSSUS is an EU-funded Horizon 2020 project that aims to provide new and more effective ways to classify patients with a specific type of colorectal cancer (microsatellite stable RAS mutant metastatic colorectal cancer or MSS RAS mt mCRC) and to develop better treatments for them. The ultimate goal is to deliver a personalised medicine approach for patients with MSS RAS mt mCRC that is currently not available.

For more information, details about the event and to register, please visit Eventbrite.

Partner UNITO adds to MErCuRIC list of publications

Two new research studies with acknowledgement to MErCuRIC have recently been published by our partners at the University of Torino (UNITO):

  • Truini A, Germano G, Bardelli A. Inactivation of DNA repair-prospects for boosting cancer immune surveillance. Genome Med. 2018 Nov 28;10(1):91. doi: 10.1186/s13073-018-0603-9. PubMed PMID: 30486892; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6260742.
  • Germano G, Amirouchene-Angelozzi N, Rospo G, Bardelli A. The Clinical Impact of the Genomic Landscape of Mismatch Repair-Deficient Cancers. Cancer Discov. 2018 Dec;8(12):1518-1528. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-18-0150. Epub 2018 Nov 15. Review. PubMed PMID: 30442708.

Congratulations to all researchers involved!

To read more about these and other MErCuRIC-funded scientific publications, please visit http://mercuric.eu/project/publications/

MErCuRIC progress and goals elucidated at EORTC-NCI-AACR Symposium

MErCuRIC Coordinator Prof Sandra Van Schaeybroeck (QUB) and PI Prof Richard Wilson (BHSCT) presented recent project findings at the EORTC NCI AACR symposium in Dublin. This year’s meeting theme was “Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics”. The research poster entitled “MErCuRIC1: A phase 1 Multi-Centre Study of Crizotinib (cMET inhibitor) Combined with Binimetinib (MEK1/2 inhibitor) in Patients with Advanced Solid Tumours” was presented on Friday, November 16, 2018. Herein, the first results from the MErCuRIC dose escalation and dose expansion study of the combination of MEK and MET in RASmt colorectal cancer patients were presented. The poster (link below) also showed the first data on MET as potential biomarker using samples of the MErCuRIC clinical trial. Poster discussion with meeting attendees focussed on the importance to explore further mechanisms of response/resistance to this MEK + MET combination, using available clinical samples and pre-clinical translational studies.

Sandra Van Schaeybroeck commented: “I believe that we can learn a lot from the MErCuRIC clinical study. We want to nail down the role of MET, at gene, mRNA and protein level as a prognostic and predictive biomarker in early stage and metastatic CRC. We want to underpin mechanisms of intrinsic CRC tumour resistance to MEK and MET inhibition, that will inform future studies with MEK and/or MET inhibition, not only in CRC but also other tumour types”.

MErCuRIC EORTC-NCI-AACR 2018 Poster v0.5 SVS RHW

MErCuRIC consortia meeting hosted by UNITO, Month 60

The MErCuRIC team of researchers assembled for the Month 60 plenary meeting on November 8th and 9th in Italy. On the 8th the group was met at the Candiolo Cancer Institute (IRCCS) and on the 9th at the Molecular Biotechnology Center of the University of Torino (UNITO).

After an overview and report on the project progress by Coordinator Sandra van Schaeybroeck, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Kylie O’Brien of Pintail Limited reminded partners of upcoming and remaining management reporting obligations and deadlines. Usharani Wahengbam, of the University of Oxford, discussed the Phase I trial of the MEK1/2 inhibitor Binimetinib with the cMET/ALK inhibitor Crizotinib in mCRC+. Then, Manuel Salto-Tellez shared the latest in digital pathology from QUB, followed by an update on the optimized Agilent panel and validation. Federica di Nicolantonia of UNITO also updated the team on the genomic analysis of tumour DNA (ctDNA) from MErCuRIC patients. As for the biorepository and sample distribution, Coordinator Sandra van Schaeybroeck led a discussion on the further analysis of the biosamples from MErCuRIC. BHSCT’s Ruth Boyd and Pintail’s Kylie O’Brien brought the group up-to-date with the dissemination work on MErCuRIC including the Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) in research activities. Vlad Popovici, Masarykova Univerzita presented the latest bioinformatics analysis and status of the data management system. There were also sessions for focussed discussions on the pre-clinical and translational advances and abstracts for future conferences and publications. The action points were reviewed and discussed before the end of the meeting.

Thanks to our hosts UNITO for the warm hospitality!

Ed Goodall, NICRCF reports as a EuropaColon Patient Advisor

Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum (NICRCF) member, Ed Goodall, was elected in 2018 to the Patient Advisory Group of the EuropaColon organisation which incorporates researchers and healthcare professionals from nearly 40 countries.

The EuropaColon Patient Advisory Group held their most recent meeting in October 2018 in Munich in conjunction with that of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) at the Messe Grande Conference Centre, constructed on the site of the old Oberwiesenfeld airport. A main focus of the meeting was the strategic use of biosimilars which companies are allowed to make when the patent of the original medicine expires. They are usually able to produce and sell the biosimilar more cheaply than the original reference medicines. Thus, they are appealing for healthcare systems and may help to improve access to important medicines for cancer patients and, in particular, for those with metastatic colorectal cancer. A further important discussion concentrated on a strategic policy in Europe for routine screening and the optimal age at which it should be offered. The consensus appeared to be at 50 years of age and supported by more informative publicity campaigns which had been successful in some European Union countries.

In conclusion, Ed Goodall commented, ‘I left Munich, its Chocolate Box Centre dominated by the golden statuette of the Angel of Peace pointing heavenwards, buzzing with new ideas and inspired to renew efforts to finally defeat our old enemy, cancer.’

Cancer researchers at Queen’s University Belfast win European Health Award

Cancer researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Leeds, as part of a pan-European partnership, called the European Cancer Concord (ECC) won the prestigious 2018 European Health Award. MErCuRIC PI Professor Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Cancer Research at Queen’s University Belfast and Vice President of ECC, received the award on October 3, 2018 on behalf of the partnership during the opening ceremony of the European Health Forum Gastein, a European health policy conference and an official event of the Austrian European Council Presidency.

The award-winning project, ‘The European Cancer Patient’s Bill of Rights: A Catalyst for Change and an empowerment tool for cancer patients across Europe’ involves an equal partnership between cancer patients, healthcare professionals and cancer researchers. The Bill of Rights is underpinned by three key principles: the right of every European citizen to receive accurate information and be involved in their own care; the right of every European citizen to access specialised cancer care underpinned by research and innovation; and the right of every European citizen to cost-effective health systems that ensure optimum cancer outcomes.

Professor Lawler commented: “Cancer knows no borders, so it is important that we work together to develop solutions that address cancer inequalities in all parts of Europe. I am immensely proud to be accepting this award, not only on behalf of our team who have worked together over the last five years on this initiative, but also on behalf of the millions of European citizens who are living with and beyond cancer, and experiencing cancer inequalities every single day of their lives.”

Working in close partnership with European patient organisations and professional societies has been a key part of the initiative. MErCuRIC patient representative Margaret Grayson, a cancer survivor and Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum (NICRCF), remarked: “The news that the European Cancer Patient’s Bill of Rights has received a top European award is wonderful. This collaborative initiative has patients absolutely at its centre. It is especially pleasing that Professor Lawler will be collecting this award at Gastein, given Northern Ireland’s leadership role in the project.”

“We at the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) are delighted to be part of this joint success,” Lydia Makaroff, Director of the European Cancer Patient Coalition, added. “The ECPC has been a crucial partner in the European Cancer Patient’s Bill of Rights since it was launched in the European Parliament on World Cancer Day in 2014, and has worked tirelessly to find solutions to the disparities that cancer patients experience across Europe.”

Read the press release from Queen’s University Belfast here.

Masarykova Univerzita partners present MErCuRIC at ECCB 2018 in Athens

Partners Dr Vlad Popovici and Anna Pečinková, Faculty of Informatics, Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX), Masarykova Univerzita presented MErCuRIC research, “Cross-platform gene expression signature for microsatellite instability in colon and gastric cancers” at the European Conference on Computational Biology (ECCB) 2018 in Athens, Greece. The conference was held September 8- 12, 2018.

ECCB is one of the main computational biology events in Europe. ECCB 2018 welcomed scientists working in a variety of disciplines, including bioinformatics, computational biology, biology, medicine, and systems biology. Participating in ECCB 2018 was an excellent opportunity to keep pace with cutting-edge research, and to network with members of the ECCB community.

View the Popovici/Pečinková presentation here.