1 September 2021

Oncode Institute co-lead of major consortium studying therapy resistance in cancer

A new international research consortium aims to build a reproducible single-cell sequencing workflow to capture tumour drug persistence

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.

90% of people who die from cancer respond well to the first treatment, but the cancer is fatal upon its return. In these cases, the tumor has often become resistant to the treatment that initially worked. PERSIST-SEQ, a new international consortium of academic and industry experts in cancer research, will spend the next 5 years intensively investigating why cancer often returns after treatment. The consortium is led by Oncode Institute and AstraZeneca; program management and communication are coordinated by Lygature. The funding of 7 million euros is provided by the European Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

Therapy resistance is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths and is clinically difficult to predict, prevent or treat. Although resistance has been studied extensively in recent decades, it is still unclear how it arises at the cellular level. “Why does cancer come back after treatment and why does it often come back worse? Using single-cell sequencing and organoid technology, we can answer this question at the cellular level,” says Principal Investigator Alexander van Oudenaarden (Hubrecht Institute and Oncode Institute). "We hope to explain why cancer reappears in different tissue types after treatment and why the reappeared tumor cells grow faster." The ambition of Oncode Institute is to test treatment inventions as quickly as possible in patients who could potentially benefit from new treatments.

This initiative is based on two innovative technologies with roots in leading Dutch laboratories: single-cell sequencing and organoids. With single-cell sequencing, genetic information can be mapped for individual cells. The combination with organoid technology makes it possible to do this in the context of a mini-organ or mini-tumor, grown from patient tissue. With this combination, the consortium will map the genetic pattern of 5 million individual cancer cells over the next 5 years. The ultimate goal is to develop new cancer treatments based on these data and to prevent therapy resistance.

Broad collaboration
PERSIST-SEQ is a public-private partnership between universities, small and medium-sized biotechnology companies and large international pharmaceutical companies. “I am very excited to be part of this consortium”, says Van Oudenaarden. “Not only because of the importance of understanding therapy resistance, I am also sure that all partners will learn a lot from each other and thus each other and help further the joint fight against cancer."

Geert Kops, Head of Oncode Institute, says: “This consortium perfectly matches the goal of Oncode Institute to outsmart cancer and impact lives. We will be able to support the research in terms of science, technology and valorization and we look forward to cooperate with many interesting partners to realize the ambitious scientific and technological goals.”

PERSIST-SEQ is a public-private partnership funded by the IMI, with representation from academic institutions, small- and medium-sized enterprises, public organisations and pharmaceutical companies. The partners involved in the project are Oncode Institute, Hubrecht Institute, Netherlands Cancer Institute, Single Cell Discoveries, Lygature, Wellcome Sanger Institute, Fondazione del Piemonte per l’Oncologia, Hubrecht Organoid Technology, Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology, Xenopat, AstraZeneca, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Bayer, Transgene, Charles River.

For more information, visit the PERSIST-SEQ website.

Acknowledgement of support

PERSIST-SEQ receives funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No. 101007937. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA. See www.imi.europa.eu for more details.

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