Three Grants for Research into Poor Prognosis Cancers Awarded

Posted on: 06 Nov 2018

Three Grants for Research into Poor Prognosis Cancers Awarded

The HRB announced today €3.2 million for 14 new projects supporting research amongst medical charities. The 14 research projects will address the research needs of specific patient populations and were awarded through the Health Research Board and Medical Research Charities Group Joint Funding Scheme. Three of the 14 projects were co-funded by Breakthrough Cancer Research and specifically looked to impact the survival of patients with poor prognosis cancers.  Short video explanations of these are below.   

Commenting on the awards, Dr Darrin Morrissey, Chief Executive at the HRB said, ‘There some very impressive ideas among these new research awards. The ingenuity of the research, as well as the impact that it will have on people's lives demonstrates why it is so important to build a health research culture at the heart of our health services'.

Dr Avril Kennan, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Charities Group noted ‘This programme provides a particular opportunity for medical research charities to support research that is in response to what patients actually need. With matched funding from the HRB, charities can in effect double their research budgets.

Dr Caitriona Creely, Programme Manager, from the HRB added ‘The MRCG/HRB Joint Funding Scheme is an opportunity for HRB to work with charities and support excellent research of relevance to patients, from understanding the cause of diseases, to looking for a cure, to focusing on care for people and families living with conditions day to day.’ The scheme runs approximately every two years. The next round of applications is expected to open in September 2019.


MRCG-HRB & Breakthrough Co-funded Awards


Gold-drug: Targeting a novel dual inhibitor drug with gold nanoparticles for improving radiation response in oesophageal cancer      

Professor Jacintha O'Sullivan, Trinity College Dublin. 


Oesophageal cancer (cancer of the food pipe) has low survival rates and a very poor response to treatment. Sadly, this cancer type is on the rise in Ireland and is linked with increasing obesity rates. Unlike many other cancer types, we are still only using treatments that have existed for decades – chemotherapy drugs with radiation treatment (CRT) to kill the cancer cells followed by surgery. However the tumours in a large percentage of patients (70%) do not respond. As most patients go through CRT for no benefit, whilst enduring significant side effects, it is really important for the majority of patients that we can make their tumours sensitive to treatment.

Cancer cells do two things to prevent radiation from killing them, they (1) generate a lot of energy and (2) send out signals to trick your body, for example, they encourage blood vessels in your body to grow to the tumour so it can get more nutrients. This allows the tumour to survive instead of dying.

We discovered a novel drug called CC8 that stops cancer cells doing these two things in oesophageal cancer cells and can increase response to treatment in resistant cells. In this grant, using patient tumour samples and in mouse studies, we will package our drug with tiny gold particles. This packaging will make our drug go to the tumour and target the powerhouse of the cells that provides the energy for the cancer cells to survive. We will see how well this new combination works in oesophageal cells in the lab, in patient tumour samples and in mice.

This work will position our drug along a pathway where it could eventually be given to oesophageal patients alongside standard CRT to make tumours respond and result in better outcomes for these cancer patients with a dismal prognosis.


Combining electrochemotherapy with a Toll Like receptor agonist for the treatment of lung cancer

Dr Patrick Forde, University College Cork.


Successful cancer treatment aims to totally eliminate the entire tumour and the risk of recurrence. Treatment currently relies on removal of the primary tumour by surgery or radiotherapy followed by control of the remaining dispersed cancer cells in the whole body usually by chemotherapy. At the Cork Cancer Research Centre (CCRC) we have been examining these two aspects of treatment (removal of the tumour mass and the cancer cells circulating in the body) with the aim of eliminating the tumour mass non-invasively and recruiting an immune response against the remaining cancer cells.

In this proposal we will examine the use of electric pulses to aid in the delivery to drugs to tumour tissue. Short electric pulses have been demonstrated to make tissue temporarily more porous and allow a much greater uptake of therapeutic agents by the cancer cells. Over 400 patients with inoperable skin cancers have been treated with this approach at the CCRC with over 85% showing a positive response to treatment. The drug toxicity is limited to the site where the electric pulses are delivered. In this therapy, the toxicity is directly at the tumour tissue, thereby saving healthy organs and tissues. We will combine this with a modulator designed to improve the immune response at the site of the tumour.

Our aim is to develop this treatment further through the application a non-invasive method to deliver drugs and thereby allow the treatment of lung cancer and combining with a modulator to enhance the anti-tumour immune response. Such an approach has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for lung cancer patients and also reduce the costs associated with therapy through shorter treatment times, reduced hospitalisation and volume of chemotherapy drugs required.


Evaluation of the role of MxA and ISGylation in chemosensitivity in oesophageal cancer

Dr Sharon McKenna, University College Cork.


Many oesophageal cancers develop resistance to the drugs currently used to treat this disease. This allows the cancer cells to survive and the cancer can come back again at variable times after the initial treatment. Research already performed by this group has identified genetic differences between cancer cells that respond well to treatment and those that do not. This project will examine how the genes involved can re-program cancers and influence their response to treatment. We have already identified a novel gene pathway that can dramatically improve how cancer cells respond to chemotherapy. Understanding these novel genes and how they regulate death and survival in cancer cells will enable us to develop more specific anti-cancer agents for the future. The overall aim of this project is to identify new ways of targeting resistant cancers, so that chemotherapeutic regimes can be improved and recurrent disease eliminated in cancer patients.

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