The Institute of Cancer Research is one of the founding members of a new not-for-profit company that will enable scientists across the world to test cancer drugs in cell and animal models of childhood cancers.
The new company is called ITCC-P4 gGmbH. It is the first and only non-profit company in the world to offer access to laboratory models for systematic efficacy testing on fully-characterised paediatric tumour models.
The company will provide researchers at academic institutions and drug companies with access to a comprehensive array of cutting-edge laboratory models of children’s cancers.
The company has emerged from a consortium called the Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer Preclinical Proof-of-Concept Platform, or ITCC-P4 for short.
ITCC-P4 members have created more than 400 new models of childhood tumours under this consortium and made them available via the new initiative, derived from cell and tissues from patients with childhood cancers including neuroblastoma, brain and bone cancers.
Testing new drugs
ITCC-P4 gGmbh will help accelerate the development of new treatments by making it easier for companies to test their drugs for potential benefits in childhood cancers – including drugs already being developed for adult cancers.
By providing evidence of possible benefit in paediatric cancers, the new company could lead to more cancer drugs entering trials in children and, ultimately, improving survival and quality of life for children with types of cancer that are currently untreatable.
The ICR is among 11 research institutions and three biotech companies taking part in the public-private partnership, and one of two in the UK – the other being the University of Newcastle.
Three ICR researchers are working closely with the new consortium.
Professor Louis Chesler, Centre Head for the Centre for Paediatric Oncology Experimental Medicine at the ICR and ICR Lead for ITCC P4, is a world leading clinical academic expert in the treatment of and research into neuroblastoma and solid tumours in children.
He has pioneered genetic testing to drive options for those children who currently have little treatment options into new molecularly driven clinical trials using novel compounds and drugs through Phase I studies.
This work was achieved in collaboration with researchers including Professor Michael Hubank, Head of Clinical Genomics at our hospital partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and through the Paediatric Drug Development Unit at the Royal Marsden led by Dr Lynley Marshall.
Professor Chris Jones’ achievements include pioneering new understandings of diffuse midline glioma (DMG) tumours such as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) – from the identification of mutations in genes unqiue to these tumours including ACVR1, and developing the first clinical trials of both repurposed and novel drugs targeting this vulnerability.
Professor Janet Shipley is a leading expert in sarcoma, a rare cancer type that can affect teens and young adults, including rhabdomyosarcoma. She has made vital new understandings of the genetic makeup of these cancers, and is an advocate for better repurposing of existing drugs in childhood cancer.
Professors Jones and Chesler have led the development of excellent new research tools, including mouse models of childhood cancers – utilising Professor Chesler’s unique library of mouse models and expertise in this field – and cells derived directly from the patients’ tumours, which colleagues will be able to use through the new ITCC initiative.
Childhood cancer research
ITCC is an important and influential research consortium in European childhood cancer research.
It exemplifies the type of collaborative approach that paediatric cancer researchers across the world take to make vital new discoveries – discoveries that would otherwise be impossible in childhood cancer, due to its rarity and its relative lack of funding, compared to research in some adult cancers.
Professor Chesler and Dr Lynley Marshall have also played a leading role in the launch of another ITCC initiative called ITCC eSMART, which is greatly increasing the number of experimental treatments available to children with relapsed or refractory cancer across Europe.
Professor Chesler and Dr Marshall are the UK-leading members of a global research group that, this year, showed the effectiveness of the drug lorlatinib in a clinical trial as a treatment for a hard-to-treat form of neuroblastoma driven by a protein called ALK.
Due to the positive results for lorlatinib – originally developed by pharmaceutical company Pfizer as the lung cancer treatment Lorviqua – Professor Chesler and Dr Marshall have driven the UK rapid translation into larger trials in newly-diagnosed, high-risk ALK-driven neuroblastoma.
And another major childhood cancer partnership called the International CONNECT consortium – co-led by Professor Jones – has opened another trial of lorlatinib, in infant high-grade glioma (HGG) with a specific set of gene mutations. This trial builds on earlier ICR-led research that identified these mutations – called ALK / ROS1 fusions – as a driver of some HGGs.
Professor Louis Chesler, Head of the Centre for Paediatric Oncology Experimental Medicine, a collaboration between the ICR and The Royal NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“The childhood cancer research community needs to be better-served with quality research tools – and this new partnership will go a long way towards improving our access to them. We are hugely excited to be part of this new ITCC initiative, and hope it will help all our colleagues across Europe to accelerate work to develop new treatments for childhood cancers and bring forward a real change in drug development opportunities for these children.”
Jennifer Hodgson, Business Development Manager at the ICR, said:
“This new not-for-profit collaboration is a great example of how researchers from academic organisations and business can collaborate to drive forward new discoveries in cancer research. We’re proud to be part of this pioneering public-private partnership and hope it helps to accelerate new drugs into clinical trials for children with cancer.”