The origins of Oncode

Even if our history is short, you might be interested in how Oncode came to be. Or maybe you're curious about our mission, name or logo? Be our guest.

Her Majesty the Queen Máxima, General Director Ton Rijnders, Robbert-Jan Stegeman, Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and co-initiator Réne Kuijten – Photo by Bas Uterwijk for Oncode Institute

The collection of diseases we call cancer afflicts an alarming number of people, making it a leading cause of death worldwide. Every hour, five people die of cancer in the Netherlands. Despite tremendous progress, we still do not understand cancer biology at the molecular level. To outsmart cancer, we need to develop new knowledge and methods.

Oncode is an independent institute dedicated to understanding cancer and translating research into practice. The best fundamental cancer researchers in the Netherlands come together in Oncode to bring their research discoveries into the clinic faster. Along with performing vital basic research, Oncode will specialize in cooperating with third parties to guide its scientists’ discoveries towards translational and clinical research and novel diagnostics, drugs and treatments. Our aims are to help more patients survive, to improve quality of life for those afflicted, and ultimately to cure cancer.

Oncode could not exist without financial support from our dedicated funders:

The strategic goals through which we will accomplish our mission are threefold:

  1. Scientific excellence - Through performing urgently needed molecular cancer research, our institute will strive to gain a deeper understanding of the basic mechanisms of cancer and to address both fundamental and clinically relevant questions.
  2. Collaboration - Instead of new buildings, we are constructing a network, which will enable experienced leading scientists and gifted young researchers at Partner Institutions to work together towards a common goal. Only by working together can we outsmart cancer.
  3. Valorization excellence - Oncode aims to excel in translating research findings into novel diagnostics, new drugs and innovative treatments that will benefit patients and society.

Why now?

Cancer is a devastating disease that places a heavy burden on society. It is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In the Netherlands, one in three people will be afflicted, sooner or later, by one of the conditions collectively called cancer. The total economic impact of the disease in the EU was estimated at €126 billion in 2009.

Recent scientific findings and new technologies have led to a revolutionary molecular approach to treating cancer. This approach will be key to fighting the disease in future. Scientists have gained new insights into the origin, growth and spread of tumours and now understand that cancer has many subtypes that react to treatment differently. We continue to improve our ability to predict which patients will benefit from which treatments. However, major strides still need to be made in our understanding of cancer biology at the molecular level.

The Netherlands is a front runner in oncology research. Nevertheless, only a few Dutch research findings have served as a basis for new cancer diagnostics and treatments. Dutch research could and should be helping more patients. Oncode is set up to bridge that gap.

Our origins

René Kuijten, a member of Topsector Life Sciences & Health (Health Holland), and Rudy Dekeyser, the former Managing Director of the Flemish biotechnology institute VIB, were convinced that a huge leap forward could be made if an institute were founded on the basis of these synergetic pillars:

  • Bringing together within one institute, with a shared mission and strategy, the very best fundamental scientists working in oncology;
  • Establishing a top-quality valorization team within this institute to translate the scientists’ research findings into new diagnostics, drugs and treatments;
  • Providing the institute with enough capital for long-term financing to allow genuine research breakthroughs and attract top international talent.

In 2012, Kuijten and Dekeyser began advocating for these changes to the oncological ecosystem, arguing that they could propel the Netherlands to a leading position in the translation of research findings into results for patients. Five of the Netherlands’ top scientists in the international field of fundamental oncology research joined forces with Kuijten and Dekeyser and began providing scientific leadership for a new institute:

KWF Kankerbestrijding (the Dutch Cancer Society) embraced the idea of the new institute. So did Topsector Life Sciences & Health (Health Holland) and three Dutch government ministries: the Ministry of Economic Affairs; the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport; and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In 2015, all the parties agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding in which they confirmed their willingness to contribute financially to what is today known as Oncode Institute. Several Dutch research institutes and university medical centres, the latter supported by the NFU (the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres), expressed interest in joining Oncode. They became our Partner Institutions.


July 22, 2015

  • The Memorandum of Understanding is signed by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs; the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport; the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science; Topsector Life Sciences & Health (Health Holland); KWF Kankerbestrijding (the Dutch Cancer Society); and Oncode’s founders, Rudy Dekeyser and René Kuijten.

April 12, 2016

  • The Dutch Cancer Society founds Onco Research, a temporary organisation whose purpose is to lay the groundwork for Oncode. One of its main tasks is to formulate a strategic plan.

April 12, 2016

  • Matthijs van Nieuwkerk, the host of Dutch current affairs TV show De Wereld Draait Door, invites Founding Scientists René Bernards, Anton Berns, Hans Bos, Hans Clevers and Jan Hoeijmakers onto the programme to announce plans for a new, world-class institute that will significantly advance the understanding, prevention and treatment of cancer. See the clip here (in Dutch).

July 27, 2017

  • Oncode Institute is incorporated.

August 29, 2017

  • The Dutch Cancer Society’s contribution agreement is signed.

October 12, 2017

  • A kick-off celebration takes place, attended by Funding Partners, Oncode Investigators, representatives of Partner Institutions, and other key individuals who have helped to make Oncode Institute a reality.

October 12, 2017 to February 5, 2018

  • Affiliation agreements with Partner Institutions are signed.

February 5, 2018

  • Oncode Institute is publicly launched in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Máxima; the Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, Bruno Bruins; and the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven.

The Oncode Institute logo

What does “Oncode” mean?

It starts with oncology: the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. With the aim of enabling advances in this field, our institute carries out fundamental research to gain a deeper understanding of the basics of cancer – the code. Onco and code: the fusion of these elements mirrors the unifying strategy under which the institute brings together top scientists.

What does the logo represent?

Oncode Institute aims to decode cancer, and that means understanding and identifying the harmful irregularities in the unique genome of every person living with the disease. Our logo represents a genome, including these harmful errors. In the digital version, a programming script generates a dynamic code. The logo signifies the infinite variation and ever-changing nature of cancer.