29 November 2021

CPoC grants awarded: New treatments for vulvar cancer & malignant mesothelioma

Elize Brolsma

Elize Brolsma

Elize is part of Oncode’s communication team. She has over 10 years of experience in the com-munication industry, both for commercial and non-profit organisations. After obtaining her bache-lor and master degree in communication at Utrecht University, Elize worked as a communication professional at a research institute, PR agency, law firm and internet company. She has a strong focus on external communications and Public Relations. At Oncode - together with her colleagues - Elize produces the monthly newsletters for Oncode Investigators & Researchers and the Oncode digital magazine. She publishes content for the Oncode website and is responsible for all social media channels. She enjoys discussing science with researchers and support them in their outreach.

Oncode Institute aims to link fundamental and clinical research to enable efficient translation of promising findings into novel diagnostic methods and clinical treatment strategies. Oncode created the clinical Proof-of-Concept (cPoC) fundto support the clinical translation of Oncode’s fundamental research.

Oncode Institute is pleased to announce that the 14th and 15th grants within the Clinical Proof of Concept programme have been awarded: less radical treatments for vulvar cancer and new drug combinations for malignant mesothelioma.

Less radical treatments for vulvar cancer
Oncode Investigator Prof. Dr. Sjoerd van der Burg, together with Dr. Mariette van Poelgeest (both LUMC), Dr. Lena van Doorn (Erasmus University MC) and Prof. Dr. Hans Nijman (UMCG) will perform the study. They will investigate if two infusions with a PD-1 blocking antibody have direct clinical and immunological effects in patients with vulvar squamous cell carcinoma (VSCC) before they are treated by surgery.

Sjoerd van der Burg explains: “Vulvar cancer is a disease of which the incidence is rising, especially under younger women. Vulvar cancer is treated by surgery and this includes radical resection of the primary vulvar tumour, excision of inguinal lymph nodes and sometimes (chemo)radiotherapy. Treatment is associated with impressive and long-lasting morbidity, sexual and psychological dysfunction and wound healing disorders. Less radical treatments are therefore urgently needed.”

The research team has strong data* that the immune system plays an important role towards a better clinical response to standard treatment of patients with FIGO I-III VSCC. They showed that the tumour of a number of patients exhibited an immune response that is associated with a good response to anti-PD-1 therapy in general. Based on this, they expect that part of the patients with vulvar cancer can also respond to anti-PD1 therapy. Importantly, this will lead to a potential new treatment option for this patient group for the first time. It may reduce the tumour load and as consequence lead to less radical surgery and thus reduce its impressive side effects. The added clinical benefit could be a reduction of recurrences or metastases at the long term.

Interested to read more about the work of Sjoerd van der Burg? He was recently interviewed by national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad about his research.

* This study was initiated on basis of the outcomes of the KWF-sponsored thesis study ‘Towards a more tailored therapeutic approach for vulvar cancer patients’ by gynecologist-oncologist in training Dr. Kim Kortekaas (LUMC).

New drug combinations for malignant mesothelioma
Oncode Investigator Prof. Dr. Maarten van Lohuizen (NKI), together with clinicians Prof. Paul Baas and Dr. Gerrina Ruiter from Thoracic Oncology at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, will work on the study. The goal of this project is to test new drug combinations that target BAP1-loss associated metabolic changes and BAP1-loss specific epigenetic changes in BAP1-deficient patients, to select the most beneficial drug combination as a new targeted therapy option for BAP1 mutant patients.

Maarten van Lohuizen says: “Malignant mesothelioma induced by asbestos exposure is a highly aggressive tumor for which no targeted therapies exist so far. Patients are often diagnosed at a late stage and chemotherapy or immunotherapy only gives small survival benefits. We have generated a mouse model for this disease in which the BAP1 tumor suppressor is mutated, as is seen in ±60% of all patients. By using drug- and genetic screens we identified new BAP1-loss specific vulnerabilities that can be targeted by two new drug combinations. This will be the first new combination therapy option aimed specifically at patients with BAP1 mutations, to hopefully help to expand survival and disease control when chemotherapy has failed.”

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