Celebrated during a special ceremony hosted and organized by the Swiss Bridge Foundation last week in Zurich, Switzerland, Rodrigo A. Toledo, Translational Investigator of VHIO’s Gastrointestinal and Endocrine Tumors Group headed by Teresa Macarulla and directed by Josep Tabernero, was officially announced as joint recipient of the Foundation’s Annual Award that empowers exceptional cancer research across Europe. This year’s Call, inviting proposals from internationally-driven young research talents on the topic of immune-oncology biomarkers, received a total of 111 applications.

The specially selected jury comprised of several renowned experts within the field, selected two equally deserving awardees for 2018. Recognized alongside his fellow winner, Ping-Chih Ho, Department of Fundamental Oncology at the University of Lausanne/Ludwig Lausanne Branch (Switzerland), Rodrigo A. Toledo’s project entitled, IMMUNOMICS: Co-evolutionary dynamics landscape of neoplastic cells and T-cells interactions during cancer immunotherapy, will be fueled by a half share of this year’s Swiss Bridge Award funding amounting to CHF 500 000 in total .

This ambitious and purely translational project ultimately promises a more faithful prediction as to which patients might better respond to some of today’s array of novel immunotherapeutics against cancer, as well as better describe the drivers of primary resistance mechanisms. More specifically, the team will use whole-exome sequencing of sequential samples from tumor and circulating tumor DNA to characterize genomic biomarkers of response and resistance to checkpoint inhibitors, portray the genomic landscape of the co-evolutionary dynamics of cancer cells and the T cell receptor clonal repertoire, and develop a novel clonal evolution-based approach for identifying clinically relevant neoepitopes as cancer immunotherapy targets.

Commenting for VHIO Communications Rodrigo, who is also a Miguel Servet-I Investigator, an Olga Torres Foundation Emerging Researcher, and Leader of the CIBERONC Spanish National Oncology’s Liquid Biopsy & Biomarkers Module, said, “On behalf of IMMUNOMICS’ co-clinical investigators and research scientists, I am truly thrilled to have received this most prestigious Award. Building on VHIO’s efforts aimed at both advancing and accelerating insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms that modulate the immune response to cancer, we will seek to better describe immune evasion mechanisms as well as potentiate predictive approaches towards more precisely improving outcomes for our patients”.

This timely proposal, promising a more precise and ‘matched’ management of patients  and the identification of robust new anti-cancer targets, will be carried out in collaboration with eight additional investigators including three Physician-Scientists at VHIO: Josep Tabernero, Director of VHIO and our Clinical Research Program, Elena Garralda, Executive Director of our Research Unit for Molecular Therapy of Cancer (UITM) “la Caixa” and PI of VHIO’s Early Clinical Drug Development Group, and Ignacio Matos who is a Phase I Investigator of the same group.

The awarded research will also count on the translational and experimental expertise of another four co-investigators from VHIO – Rodrigo Dienstmann, Paolo Nuciforo, Alena Gros, Ana Vivancos – as PI’s of our Oncology Data Science (ODysSey), Molecular Oncology, Tumor Immunology & Immunotherapy, and Cancer Genomics Groups respectively, and Miguel Vazquez who leads the Genome Informatics Group at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

To discover more about Swiss Bridge, its 2018 Award as well as the two jointly prized projects please see the Foundation’s press release below.

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Source: Swiss Bridge Foundation

 

Award for Research on Immuno-oncology Biomarkers

 This year’s Swiss Bridge Award goes to two research groups; one from Spain and one from Switzerland. Awarded CHF 250 000 each, both groups continue looking for characteristic cancer features which can predict treatment success of immunotherapies.

Immunotherapies, such as checkpoint inhibitors – whose discoverers won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine – raise hope and are promising, because they can sometimes also cure patients with advanced-stage cancers. However, immunotherapies are also cause for frustration because they often fail, with only about 20% of the treated patients responding to these types of therapies. Medical science does not yet know in advance with whom these therapies will work.

Two-stage evaluation process

With this year’s call, the Swiss Bridge Foundation invited researchers under the age of 45 to close this knowledge gap. A total of 111 scientists from all over Europe applied for the Swiss Bridge Award 2018. The jury of respected experts used a two- stage evaluation process to finally select two projects. Today, the two project leaders, Ping-Chih Ho, from the Ludwig Cancer Center, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and Rodrigo de Almeida Toledo, from the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, Spain, each receive CHF 250 000, for the realization of their research projects.

Immunologically cold and hot tumors

Ping-Chih Ho’s team is interested in the difference between tumors referred to as cold and hot tumors. While immunotherapies usually work well on hot tumors, they fail to work on cold tumors, because the cold tumor’s surrounding environment apparently prevents immune cells from migrating into the tumor tissue and exerting their effect there. Recently, Ho and his team discovered a gene that is only active in hot tumors. In mice, the researchers even managed to activate the gene in cold tumors – and thus make the tumor environment accessible again to cancer-fighting immune cells. Now, this team of researchers would like to find out if the gene plays such a similar crucial role in humans – and shall perhaps develop a test to predict the answer to successful immunotherapy.

Genomic analysis

The research project of Rodrigo de Almeida Toledo and his team is about collecting samples from patients in Barcelona who have been treated with a variety of different immunotherapies. Genomic analysis – that is, the comparison of the entire genome in tumors of patients who respond well to therapy and that of genetic material in tumors which continue to grow despite the treatment – is intended to uncover differences that will not only inform the prediction of the response to immunotherapy that could be used in the future, but perhaps also provide a clue to possible new targets in the fight against tumors.

The Swiss Bridge Foundation was founded with the support of the Swiss Cancer League, over 20 years ago. Its goal is to financially support high-quality research projects in the fight against cancer, with the help of private donors and foundations. Since the Foundation’s inception, Swiss Bridge has received more than 30 million Swiss francs and has been supporting research projects in Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland.