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.

QUB Prof Richard Wilson will present MErCuRIC at the EORTC-NCI-AARC Symposium

On November 16, 2018, MErCuRIC PI, Professor Richard Wilson of Queen’s University Belfast will present “A phase I dose escalation multi-centre study crizotinib (MET inhibitor) in patients with advanced solid tumours” during a “Molecular Targeted Agents” session of the EORTC-NCI-AACR Symposium. The meeting will take place on 13-16 November 2018 in The Convention Centre Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland.

Hosted by the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the 2018 Symposium will assemble academics, scientists and pharmaceutical industry representatives from across the globe to discuss the latest innovations in drug development, target selection and the impact of new discoveries in molecular biology.

You can view the searchable EORTC- NCI- AACR Symposium 2018 programme here.


Queen’s University Belfast team makes a massive colon cancer breakthrough

New findings emerging from the research team at Queen’s University Belfast have identified a cellular process which can be exploited in order to kill BRAF mutant colon cancer cells, a particularly aggressive subgroup of colon cancers. These cancers are not only extremely aggressive but they do not respond well to conventional cancer treatments.

The QUB team behind the discovery describe it as a “ground-breaking therapeutic process that can target and kill bowel cancer cells”. The treatment will be a key tool in tackling the most aggressive form of the illness which conventional treatments have little or no impact on. The revolutionary technique may improve survival rates for colon cancer patients globally.

Professor Sandra Van Schaeybroeck, remarked: “This research is good news for bowel cancer patients as further clinical trials investigating the effect of such agents could improve the survival outcome of patients in Northern Ireland and beyond.”

Congratulations to all researchers involved!

Here is some digital press coverage of this story:

Belfast Telegraph

The Daily Mirror

The Newsletter

UNITO team publishes MErCuRIC study in Cancer Cell

A new MErCuRIC study from Prof Alberto Bardelli and the team at the University of Torino has just been published. The article entitled “Radiologic and Genomic Evolution of Individual Metastases during HER2 Blockade in Colorectal Cancer” was published on 9 July 2018 in Cancer Cell.

Congratulations to the entire research team: Giulia Siravegna, Luca Lazzari, Giovanni Crisafulli, Andrea Sartore-Bianchi, Benedetta Mussolin, Andrea Cassingena, Cosimo Martino, Richard B. Lanman, Rebecca J. Nagy, Stephen Fairclough, Giuseppe Rospo, Giorgio Corti, Alice Bartolini, Pamela Arcella, Monica Montone, Francesca Lodi, Annalisa Lorenzato, Alice Vanzati, Emanuele Valtorta, Giovanni Cappello, Andrea Bertotti, Sara Lonardi, Vittorina Zagonel, Francesco Leone, Mariangela Russo, Antonella Balsamo, Mauro Truini, Federica Di Nicolantonio, Alessio Amatu, Erica Bonazzina, Silvia Ghezzi, Daniele Regge, Angelo Vanzulli, Livio Trusolino, Salvatore Siena,  Silvia Marsoni and Alberto Bardelli.

The entire list of MErCuRIC publications can be found here:

MErCuRIC celebrates International Clinical Trials Day 2018

In celebration of International Clinical Trials Day on 18 May 2018, an exhibition showcased cancer clinical studies in the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre. MErCuRIC and all open clinical studies where there was local leadership were promoted.

Patient representatives Margaret Grayson and Dr Edward Goodall were part of the team from the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum (NICRCF), Northern Ireland Cancer Trials Network  (NICTN) and several cancer charities who were on hand to share information and their own experience. There was a great support from staff, patients and visitors.


Esther Harding Shares Her Personal Experience of Participating in the MErCuRIC Study

Esther Harding (EH) spoke to Ruth Boyd* (RB) in the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, May 2018. Esther is 69 years of age, lives in Northern Ireland and is married with 3 sons, 3 daughters-in-law and 7 grandchildren.

RB: Hello Esther, thank you for speaking to us about the MErCuRIC study. How long have you been taking part in the MErCuRIC trial?

EH: I am just in the second cycle of treatment in the study, so I do not know yet if the trial drugs have had any beneficial effect or not. I went on the study after I was told the cancer was in my liver and lungs and at the moment there is no suitable chemo for me. I was asked by one of the doctors involved with me if I would consider taking part in a clinical trial. The MErCuRIC study is for the stage of cancer I have and I was suitable as my primary cancer was in the bowel.

RB: What motivated you to take part in the trial?

EH: I have had the benefit of treatments and procedures and knew others had undergone trials towards these, also I know how important research is. I hope this trial proves to bring positive outcomes to those diagnosed with this type of bowel cancer in the future. My husband and I thought and prayed about it, faith is a big part of our lives, and although it was in my mind to say yes, I had to take into account what my family felt. They all thought, as my quality of life was good at the moment, it would be worthwhile to take part. They encouraged me in my decision and said to give the trial a go as I could pull out whenever I needed to, or if there are adverse effects it will be stopped.

It was reassuring the two drugs were already licensed and a placebo was not involved.

I was definitely motivated to take part if I was suitable. The process of finding out about suitability takes about 4 weeks, so I never felt under pressure.

RB: So when were you diagnosed and what treatment have you had already?

EH: I was diagnosed in December 2012 following colonoscopy after 7 months of various investigations for weight loss, headaches and then vomiting. I had bowel surgery in February 2013 and liver surgery 3 months later. Thankfully both consultants were excellent and very pleased with the outcome of my surgeries as my prognosis had been very dire. I then had 3 different types of chemo over the next 4 years and the last one before the trial was Lonsurf®. I was the first person in NI to receive this drug when it became available, and I got that for 9 months.

RB: What impact has cancer had?

EH: I had worked in administration and looked after grandchildren a few days a week. In general, I was very active. Up until I became ill I had been a hospice volunteer for many years which I loved. I enjoyed gardening and was involved in church life. Because I was very weak, all these activities came to a crashing halt.

Cancer changes individuals, but the impact on family life is huge. One of the most difficult parts is knowing all the folk who care about you are anxious and sad.

About early 2013 there was a Macmillan advert. It showed a few different scenarios of people being given news of cancer, and as they walk out of clinic etc. it looks like they are collapsing, legs giving way. Suddenly the hands of a Macmillan nurse appears to help– that’s the best representation I have seen of what it’s like to get the news its cancer and the importance of being offered help and advice.

RB: What’s it been like being on the MErCuRIC trial?

EH: I’d been ‘treatment free’ since before Christmas so I had tasted a bit of normality. Going on to the trial means you are back to hospital appointments, procedures and tests. A big reminder of cancer! It becomes quite an intense part of your life. At the start of the study there were biopsies and an overnight stay but now I know I generally now have a visit once a week. The upside of this is you are monitored so much – so if anything changes you know it’s going to be picked up, and if I don’t feel well I know I can say that. I have a PICC1 line for blood samples. I feel tired but it’s a general tiredness, it’s not like the fatigue I’ve had from chemotherapy before. A rash has been the most surprising side-effect of the treatment for me. The tests and biopsies have been grand.

Everything about the study was explained, nothing is hidden. It’s very open. My husband has been with me a lot. We have joked that at the end of this we should go and do a degree!

The doctors explained everything and the nurses have been brilliant. The staff are so good. When you are very ill you realise how important staff are and what a difference it makes when they are compassionate.

RB: Thank you so much for sharing your experience of taking part in this study.

1 PICC – Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (inserted into a vein)

*Ruth Boyd is Cancer Research UK Senior Nurse in the NI Cancer Trials Network (NICTN) based at the NI Cancer Centre, Belfast HSC Trust, and is Personal and Public Involvement Professional Lead for the NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum (NICRCF). Belfast HSC Trust is a partner organisation of the MErCuRIC project funded by the European Community’s FP7 programme (contract #602901).

MErCuRIC explainer video is launched

The MErCuRIC three-minute explainer video was launched on 21 May 2018.

Please watch, utilize and share it!