SFI launches €11.9m collaboration to develop personalised cancer treatments

26 Nov 2019

Image: © Monkey Business/Stock.adobe.com

Nearly €12m will be invested to develop new diagnostics and therapeutics for the personalised treatment of cancer.

Today (26 November), Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, TD, announced a €11.9m research collaboration in the field of precision oncology, which is supported by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Strategic Partnership Programme.

“I am delighted to announce this significant step forward for cancer research in Ireland,” Humphreys said. “This innovative programme has the potential to make a real difference to future options available for cancer patients in this country.”

The research will be conducted by Precision Oncology Ireland – a consortium of five Irish universities, six Irish cancer research charities and 10 companies aiming to develop new diagnostics and therapeutics for the personalised treatment of cancer.

The initiative is supported by a €5m Government investment through the SFI Strategic Partnership Programme, which was matched by a €6.9m investment from the charity and industry partners making up the consortium.

What is precision oncology?

Precision, or ‘personalised’, oncology uses data about a person’s genes along with additional information on their cancer to understand the unique pathways of the disease or the treatment response in that person.

With this new approach, doctors can prescribe the right treatment in a timely fashion, saving the resources and time that current ‘trial and error’ methods can incur, with the aim of improving response rates.

A recovered cancer patient who now acts as a patient advocate, Ramon Whelan, said: “I’m delighted to see researchers, charities and industry coming together in Ireland to focus as a group on the problems in cancer treatments.

“Cancer patients want to become more involved in their own treatment decisions, and more personalised diagnostics and treatments are essential for this to happen.”

The National Cancer Strategy

Speaking at the launch of the collaboration initiative, the director of Precision Oncology Ireland, Prof Walter Kolch, said: “Precision Oncology Ireland is a vision come true. It unites the top cancer research experts in Ireland, the leading cancer charities, and companies at the cutting edge of diagnostics and drug discovery.

“We believe that this unique consortium lays out the blueprint for how cancer research and cancer care will look in Ireland in the 21st century.

“We will use cutting-edge technologies to generate unique genetic and molecular profiles for each patient’s cancer. Our key competitive advantage lies in the innovative computational methods we use to make sense of these profiles, and decipher what drives each individual cancer. The results of this programme will be better diagnostics, personalised cancer treatment, and faster drug discovery and development.”

The development of precision diagnostics and therapeutics was called for in the Government’s National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026, with the hopes of improving patient response rates and survival, while reducing side-effects from therapy and shortening hospital stays.

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI and chief scientific advisor to the Government, added: “SFI’s Strategic Partnership Programme aims to foster partnerships across academia, industry and charity to address key research questions and enhance the competitiveness of our economy.

“Ireland has unique and world-leading expertise in precision oncology. This transformative research programme will harness that expertise to enable real progress in personalised medicine for cancer patients, allowing us to take a leadership position in this important area of healthcare.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic