Open Science in Cancer Research: Everybody Wins
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High quality science leads to better treatment options for patients suffering from diseases such as cancer. Knowing that the number of cases of cancer worldwide will rise by 70% over the next two decades highlights the pressing need for more treatment options. At Bayer, we understand that ongoing research into innovative therapies is essential to pave the way for new ways to treat patients suffering from cancer.
Bayer joins forces with world-class academic institutions and other pharma companies as part of the Structural Genomics Consortium. By combining the best of both worlds, academic researchers are supported in moving their work forward and pharma companies like us have a better chance of developing novel and life-changing treatments. The ultimate goal of this combined effort is to discover and develop innovative treatments for patients that could potentially prolong their lives or even cure them of cancer. Everybody wins.
Here are two ways that Bayer is embracing open science in cancer research on the occasion of the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2018:
Providing chemical probes to deepen understanding of cancer cell biology
We are all in it together: scientists in academia and in industry. At Bayer we share some of our internal research with external, academic experts. Through our contribution of chemical probes, academic labs have access to tools that can drive research forward and bolster understanding of certain diseases. At this year’s AACR annual meeting, we present four probes which we hope will enable researchers to further their understanding of cancer cell biology.
Here is one of our Bayer experts, Professor Michael Brands, to explain more about open science and the value chemical probes provide to the scientific community:
Grants to further cancer research
2018 marks the third year that Bayer will team up with the AACR to give ten grants to scientists working on ground-breaking cancer research. The grants are not only monetary in value, the winners will also have the chance to pick the brains of our Bayer experts, giving them insights into drug discovery and development expertise.
We caught up with one of the awardees from last year, Devraj Basu, to hear more about how the grant has helped him progress with his research:
Who are you and what is your research focus?
As a surgeon-scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, there are two facets to my job. As a surgeon, I am part of a multidisciplinary team that diagnoses and treats patients suffering from a wide variety of head and neck cancer types. As a scientist, I lead a laboratory focused on helping patients with squamous cell carcinoma, the most common head and neck cancer. In particular, we want to help squamous cell carcinoma patients who either fail current therapies or suffer lasting disabilities from jointly receiving conventional chemotherapy and high dose radiation during treatment.
Our research seeks to address how heterogeneity among tumor cells in individual cancers can contribute to treatment resistance. Some of this diversity among tumor cells is genetic - it arises from ongoing mutations during rapid cell division. However, many other differences appear because cancers grow and evade therapy by exploiting aspects of normal human development. These developmental processes diversify cell types within healthy organs, creating fractions of cells that resist toxic injury and then divide to regenerate damaged tissue after an insult. Cancers are essentially dysfunctional organs that can adopt similar strategies both to escape the body’s own anti-tumor defenses and to avoid being killed by cancer drugs.
My lab examines how such “epigenetic” heterogeneity among malignant cells is represented within head and neck cancers and impacts their responses to modern cancer drugs. We are evaluating the rapid changes in the composition of heterogeneous tumor cell populations that allow cancers to escape targeted drugs, and devising strategies that alter these changes to produce more favorable drug responses. In doing so, our overall goals are: to establish novel therapies that improve survival for the worst head and neck cancers and to modify management for readily curable tumors in order to avoid severe treatment toxicities.
What motivates you to research cancer therapies?
I pursued a career in medicine because I wanted to improve therapy for major illnesses with high mortality. With this goal in mind, I pursued education as a basic scientist and subsequently obtained the clinical training that allows me to work as a cancer surgeon. As a result of these dual roles and perspectives, I sought opportunities to use the tumor materials obtained from standard surgical practice in order to create better tools to study head and neck cancers in research. It is my hope that this effort will directly impact clinical trial design by establishing better platforms for preclinical evaluation of new therapies.
What attracted you to apply for the AACR-Bayer grant?
After starting an independent laboratory in 2012, I recognized that I would need to work with drug companies to help bring my work to clinical fruition. To serve this goal, I needed to learn how to develop and communicate my research in a manner that engages leaders in industry and generates productive collaborations. I applied for the grant as a first step in learning how to frame studies of interest to pharmaceutical companies and to generate larger scale collaborations for the future.
How has the grant supported you in your research?
First, it has allowed my lab to spend more time and resources on a project evaluating a particular drug combination strategy. Secondly, it has led to ongoing discussions and relationships with medical science contacts in multiple companies, including Bayer. As a result, my lab is pursuing the possibility of a “pre-surgical window of opportunity” drug trial in a particular subset of head and neck cancer patients undergoing surgery at the Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania.
What are your hopes for the future of cancer therapies?
I hope that new therapies will emerge from integrating our expansive knowledge of the genetic alterations in cancer with emerging insights into how tumors exploit aspects of normal human developmental biology.
National Cancer Institute, NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms; Last accessed April 2018
Cancer Treatment Reviews – Window of opportunity studies: Do they fulfil our expectations? http://www.cancertreatmentreviews.com/article/S0305-7372(15)00251-0/abstract; Last accessed April 2018
World Health Organization, Cancer Fact Sheet: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/; Last accessed April 2018