Two of the major challenges that we face in solving cancer sooner are resistance to today’s array of anti-cancer therapies and metastatic cell spread. Concerning the former, twenty years’ pioneering research led by Laura Soucek, Principal Investigator of VHIO’s Mouse Models of Cancer Therapies Group and ICREA Professor, has centered on an ambitious route towards combating resistance and thus cancer regression, through clinically inhibiting the Myc oncogene. Found deregulated in most, if not all, tumor types, and as a key driver of cancer progression and maintenance, Myc is an ideal candidate as a cancer target but its promise has not yet been successfully translated into benefits at the patient level.

While several factors including Myc’s nuclear localization, lack of identified ligand binding site, and its function in maintaining normal tissues, have sustained the widely held belief that it is in fact an impossible target, the work of determinedly driven groups including Laura´s has since led to the silencing, or at least the counteracting of cynicism surrounding the applicability of making Myc druggable.

Hotly pursued by Laura and her team, the ringing in of the first clinically viable direct Myc inhibitor would offer essential new weaponry in our current arsenal of anti-cancer therapies and crucially offer fresh hope for countless patients suffering from some of the most difficult-to-treat tumor types. Among the many backers who share their belief is the European Research Council (ERC), which has consistently supported their efforts in advancing discovery into Myc’s biology and function and progressing novel targeting strategies towards finally delivering a clinically viable inhibitor.

More specifically, it is thanks to the funding received through an ERC Consolidator Grant (CoG) back in 2013 that her group discovered the unexpected cell-penetrating activity of their Omomyc peptide, and identified a mutant variant that could enable its systemic delivery to exert its powerful anti-cancer blows in cancer cells.

Similarly, Laura’s first ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) in 2015, together with her co-creation of the VHIO-born spin-off, Peptomyc S.L., fostered the development of their peptide for the effective and preclinically proven treatment of glioblastoma, triple negative breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer through intranasal administration.

Officially announced last week, Laura was named as one among fifty other current ERC grant holders (totaling five from Spain, all located across Catalonia) to receive top-up funding via her Proof of Concept Grant (PoC), to explore the commercial and societal potential of the results of her ERC-funded frontier research, under EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

“We are greatly indebted to the ERC as well as our many other supporters for their dedicated belief and continued backing of our research, each and every step of the way. This successful round of ERC Proof of Concept funding will enable us to mark essential milestones in developing our novel peptide by establishing its feasibility, including a commercial data package and cost estimations for industrial production. This in turn will de-risk our product, increasing its value and probability of reaching the market by making it readily transferrable to a spin-off company,” commented Laura Soucek for VHIO Communications.

“The precious funding received through ERC’s PoC scheme helps us to bridge the gap between our research and early phases of its commercialization. We at VHIO are optimistic that this latest support received will further spur us to drive our discovery to market,” she continued.

Laura’s latest ERC awarded proposal, Development of an effective and safe systemic Myc inhibitor for the treatment of multiple cancer types, represents the next crucial step in the development of their anti-Myc based therapy for the systemic treatment of lymphoma, breast, and melanoma, among many other tumors. 

“Importantly, building on our earlier PoC-driven breakthrough of successfully administering treatment intranasally, this second project promises to unleash the therapeutic potential of our product through systemic intravenous administration enabling it to travel to all the tissues in the body and the treatment of systemic diseases such as lymphoma, or highly metastatic tumors including melanoma and metastatic breast cancer.” concluded Laura.

These new grants, worth €150.000, each are only open to ERC grantees and for this first round of the three for this year’s call, fifty out of a total of 114 evaluated proposals were awarded. VHIO Communications takes this opportunity to both salute and thank ERC as the premiere European funding organization for frontier research of excellence, as well as congratulate the other four awarded grantees from Spain, all located in other leading institutes across Catalonia:

Marcelo Bertalmio, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Gerasimos Konstantatos, Institute of Phototonic Sciences (ICFO), Pablo Menéndez, Josep Carreras Leukaemia Foundation (all of whom are also ICREA Professors), and Modesto Orozco, Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona).