Dr Manel Esteller, leader of the Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program (PEBC) of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), ICREA Research Professor and University of Barcelona Professor will receive one of the Proof of Concept (PoC) 2016 grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). These top-funding grants are only available for scientists who already have a grant from the ERC in order to explore the commercial or innovation potential of the results of their ERC-funded research. Esteller has received his PoC grant for his coordinated project EPIPHARM, focused on the development of a ncRNA DNA Methylation Kit to guide the treatment of Cancer of Unknown Primary.
The budget of the overall 2016 Proof of Concept competition is €20 million. Out of the 141 ERC grant holders who applied in the first round of the competition, only 44 have been awarded; 4 of them are Catalan researchers. The Proof of Concept grants, worth €150,000 each, can be used, for example, to establish intellectual property rights, investigate business opportunities or conduct technical validation.
The innovative idea behind the EPIPHARM project, linked to the EPICUP ERC-funded project, is to develop a high-throughput tool for epigenotyping Cancer of Unknown Primary (CUP) to identify tumor type and provide oriented treatments. CUPs are a heterogeneous group of cancers, comprising approximately 5% of all cancer cases in the world. In those CUPs where the primary tumor type is not identified, there is an extremely poor outcome, with an expected death within the first six months of the diagnosis.
Despite the introduction of new image technologies and immunohistochemistry methods, more than 50% of CUPs remain anonymous regarding their primary tumor site of origin and, as mentioned, their prognoses are dismal. EPIPHARM aims to launch an assay that includes a user-friendly and cost effective approach to improve the clinical management of CUP cases to an extent that will make it interesting commercially for the health providers and their associated company partners.
"The idea behind the project funded by the grant is to develop a pipeline that starting from a pathology section of the cancer of unknown primary can provide the medical oncologist not only with a diagnosis, but with a suggested treatment. The epigenetic profiling of the case would indicate a particular drug to which the studied tumor is specially sensitive. We think that this will improve the outcome of these patients" highlights Dr Esteller.