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Why clinicians and fundamental researchers need each other

Oncode Investigator Wilbert Zwart and Medical Oncologist André Bergman are interviewed why clinicians and fundamental researchers need each other, and the value produced by such collaboration

Elize Brolsma

Oncode Investigator Wilbert Zwart and Medical Oncologist André Bergman (both NKI) submitted a project for the first Oncode clinical Proof of Concept (cPoC) call in 2018. They have known each other since 2011, when Wilbert started as a group leader at the NKI and embarked on a clinical rotation as part of his new role. They had a good connection straight away and cooperated in a few projects together. The Oncode cPoC announcement came at the right time for them.

What is the goal of your project?

André Bergman: “Day in day out, I see the horrific consequences of metastatic prostate cancer for patients. Once patients are in this stage, treatment options are very limited. We could make great progress by preventing patients from getting metastasis. And that’s exactly the goal of our project. We want to predict which patients have a high chance of developing metastases. In these patients we will evaluate whether we are able to prevent metastatic relapse by offering hormonal therapy next to radiation or an operation.”

What is needed for fundamental researchers in order to make the link to the clinic?

Wilbert Zwart: “In order to get a clinical project like this of the ground, it is very important to have the right interaction between clinician and researcher. A clinician can help getting relevant patient information on the table that isn’t available via public data sources. Just funding is not enough to make your project a success. You need to make use of the clinical infrastructure that you can tap into via a clinician and really work together.”

A clinician can help getting relevant patient information on the table that isn’t available via public data sources. - Wilbert Zwart

What are the clinical needs in the field?

Bergman: “Clinicians need fundamental researchers in order to really improve the chances of survival for patients. As a clinician, you try very hard to recognize the group of patients that have a high chance of developing metastasis. We look at the size of the tumor, malignancy grading and, everything else that has predictive value for the development of metastases. The problem is, that’s not enough. We need better tools and deeper knowledge of cancer to identify these patients. That is why clinicians desperately need fundamental researchers to help patients.”

Clinicians need fundamental researchers in order to really improve the chances of survival for patients. - André Bergman

What is needed apart from funding?

Zwart: “If I want to contribute to making an impact in the clinic, I need to know about the work that’s going on there. You have to be mutually interested in each other’s work, goals and challenges. That way you can complement each other and impact patients’ lives, which you can’t do by yourself. It’s great when at the top-level efforts are being made to twin clinicians and fundamental researchers within an institute. The clinical workshops that Oncode organizes also give these networking opportunities a boost.”

What kind of help did you receive from Oncode?

Getting funding for follow up research is never easy, and the fact that Oncode set up a specific fund for this type of projects will surely have a huge impact. This truly helps us to make the step to the clinic. - Wilbert Zwart

At the start of the call, Oncode organised a session where all researchers that had developed a proposal were able to pitch their ideas. Together we talked about strong and weaker points and how we can make sure the investment will have impact. This kind of support certainly helped us to make the most of our proposal.”

Oncode recently launched a second cPoC call, all Oncode Investigators have received an e-mail about this with further information. Oncode Investigators have the opportunity to submit Expressions of Interest all year round. The major difference with last year’s call is that now pre-clinical proposals are also accepted. In order to support researchers in the development of their proposals, Oncode is offering extra support through the Oncode Exploratory Development Expert Support (OEDES). This team consists of experts in pre-clinical and clinical development, with experience in academic, industry and clinical settings. They can help defining the goal of the study in relation to the overall development trajectory and can support researchers by giving them specific advice on their proposals, like pre-clinical requirements for safe and efficacious human dosing, validation strategies for new diagnostics and ways to maximize valuable results.

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