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CNIO and PharmaMar carry out drug testing project for breast cancer micrometastases


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Marcos Malumbres/ Laura M. Lombardía. CNIO

Small groups of the immune and cancer cells that circulate in the bloodstream undetected on their way to the target sites will be created in the laboratory for the first time

In phase II, hundreds of compounds obtained by PharmaMar from marine organisms will be tested with these small groups of cells in order to prevent metastasis development

The three-year project’s budget amounts to € 1.2 million, to be made available by the Next Generation EU fund through the call for public-private R&D+i projects in strategic lines by the National R&D+i Programme oriented to facing social challenges

According to data from the Spanish Society of Breast Pathology, 20 per cent of breast cancer patients develop metastasis, the main cause of death in women aged 25 to 55 in Spain. Metastatic cells move from the primary tumour (breast) through the bloodstream, colonise distant tissue and grow into a metastatic tumour. In order to hide from the immune system, malignant cells form clusters surrounded by blood platelets and immune cells that conceal them. The constituents and behaviour of these small groups of cells, or micrometastases, is not fully understood yet, but scientists believe they can be a target for cancer treatment.

A new project coordinated by the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), in cooperation with the biopharmaceutical company PharmaMar, is aimed at recreating these small groups of cells in the laboratory, in order to identify their components and understand their aggregation mechanism, and testing the compounds isolated by PharmaMar on them, analysing their therapeutic potential. “A strategy to prevent metastasis could be to disaggregate the cell aggregates so as to expose the malignant cells to the immune system,” says the project leader and Head of the Cell Division and Cancer Group at the CNIO, Marcos Malumbres. “For the first time, drugs will be used to target these complex systems, and this will enable us to gather much more information about their therapeutic effects,” he adds.

“PharmaMar’s contribution to this project consists in identifying new marine-derived compounds that could help prevent metastasis. In order to identify these compounds, we will rely on the experience of our professional team. PharmaMar is a global leader in isolating compounds from marine organisms that can be used to treat cancer,” says Carmen Cuevas, Director of Research & Development at PharmaMar.

The three-year project, titled microMETonChip, is budgeted at € 1.2 million. The funds will be made available by the Next Generation EU fund through the call for public-private R&D+i projects in strategic lines by the National Programme of R&D+i oriented to facing social challenges.

Phase I of the project will focus on recreating micrometastases in the laboratory. Since this has not been done before, the ideal conditions are unknown yet. Cell cultures will be established from cancer and blood cells. “We will create groups of some 20 to 30 cells, combining metastatic cells, immune cells and other cell types. However, we still do not know the aggregation mechanism or the precise composition of these small groups of cells,” says Malumbres. By recreating them in the lab and monitoring them in vitro, researchers will be able to understand the composition, behaviour, growth and “weaknesses” of micrometastases.

Once the cell aggregates are obtained and multiply, researchers will test the library of isolated pure compounds synthesised from marine organisms by PharmaMar, featuring hundreds of items. Using high-resolution microscopes, the CNIO researchers will study the responses of micrometastases to the compounds being tested over time. “This project will shed light on the development of breast cancer metastasis, and we hope we will be able to identify compounds with anticancer properties of therapeutic interest,” Malumbres concludes.

About PharmaMar

PharmaMar is a biopharmaceutical company specialising in the development of novel cancer treatments. Its goal is to help improve the healthcare outcomes of persons suffering from serious illnesses by producing innovative drugs. Inspired by the sea, driven by science and oriented to patients with serious illnesses, PharmaMar is committed to improving their quality of life by developing novel medicines. It is determined to continue being a world leader in the discovery, development and innovation of marine-derived drugs.PharmaMar developed and markets Yondelis® (trabectedin) in Europe, Zepzelca® (lurbinectedin) in the USA and Aplidin® (plitidepsin) in Australia in partnership with different companies. In addition, it has a portfolio of potential drugs and a robust R&D programme centred on anti-cancer drugs. PharmaMar is carrying out a number of other programmes for different types of solid tumours, which are at various stages of clinical development: lurbinectedin and ecubectedin. Based in Madrid, PharmaMar has subsidiaries in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and the USA. Also, the company is the majority shareholder in GENOMICA, the first Spanish company specialising in molecular diagnostics, and Sylentis, a biotech company focused on the development of medicines based on gene silencing (RNAi). For more information, please visit www.pharmamar.com

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