VHIO IN 2015: Tackling a constellation of challenges to conquer cancer

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Foreword

As this Scientific Report goes to print, President Barack Obama’s Cancer Moonshot, announced during his final State of the Union address in January 2016, has positively inspired the broad cancer community.

Obama and his wingman Vice President Biden “in charge of Mission Control” make for a powerful duo, but it’s not only about the crowd-pleasing appeal of injecting new life into a 45-year-old global War on Cancer. They are backing their Moonshot by injecting increased funding into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) -- promising more resources after a decade of decline (in real terms). Housing some of the world’s leading cancer scientists and physicianresearchers, NIH-spurred progress has been hampered through years of stagnant NIH funding appropriations during the global economic downturn. Thus, for cancer NIH-NCI researchers right now, President Obama represents the rocket man behind the US-based science.

While we certainly all applaud the Moonshot initiative, it is important to remember that this is not the first, and I suspect, will not be the last major anti-cancer pledge and punch. The first ‘hit’ came through the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971 by then US President Nixon -- generally considered as the beginning of our collective war on cancer. Almost three decades later, the global community renewed its commitment to cancer research, prevention and advocacy during the World Summit Against Cancer in the New Millennium, February 2000. This momentous gathering celebrated the historic signing of the Charter of Paris against cancer by an international group of government officials, leading researchers and patient advocates.

As we continue to advance our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer, the battlefield boundaries change, the war continues. As a global force, we can celebrate our successes but we must also recognize that there is still so much ground to cover.

To shoot for the moon we’ve got to build the Apollo program for cancer first.

“Marking a new era in VHIO’s translational trajectory, 2015 brought all our multidisciplinary teams under the same roof to enhance collaboration and spur our dedicated efforts aimed at conquering cancer.”

Josep Tabernero, Director
Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO)

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With today’s rapid application and translation of ‘omics’ data into prediction science against cancer, breakthroughs in molecular medicine and gene sequencing, we are continuously unmasking important molecular drivers of cancer, with many more to come. These cancer ‘conspirators’ greatly affect the outcome and trajectory of a cancer, as well as the therapeutic options available that can attack the genetic origins of disease in the most effective means possible. It is thanks to such continued discovery that we are collectively stripping back the complexity, biological ‘intelligence’, and vastly diverse nature of cancer as a multi-form disease.

VHIO: tackling a constellation of challenges to conquer cancer

As I reflect on the past year, I am pleased to report that VHIO’s multidisciplinary teams continue to make vital contributions to cancer science and medicine at the preclinical, translational and clinical research level. We have consequently marked significant progress in more precisely tackling the specificities of each individual cancer across large array of tumor types.

Throughout 2015, we also succeeded in reinforcing our infrastructure, increased our portfolio of technologies and clinical trials, and strengthened and expanded our crossborder partnerships through major research projects as well as powerful pan-European consortia of excellence (see ‘Translation toward precision oncology: a little more on how we did it in 2015’).

Through the many insights driven by our multidisciplinary and translational research approach, powerful genomic sequencing and pre-screening progamme, coupled with our expanding suite of enabling technologies and novel approaches, we at VHIO have significantly upped our tempo in rendering cancer treatments more precise.

Two representative examples in 2015 of how we continue to drive translation towards more effective therapies firstly include a study published in Cancer Research by VHIO’s Mouse Models of Cancer Therapies Group. Findings showed ibrutinib, a targeted therapy already used to treat some leukemias and lymphomas, to be effective in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Not only does this research predict a potential therapeutic avenue against this notoriously aggressive tumor type, it also promises a fast-track set up of a clinical study aimed at validating these results.

Second, as an important next step towards advancing precision therapy against brain cancer, VHIO’s Gene Expression Group, in close collaboration with many other VHIO scientists and oncoprofessionals from the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, evidenced the use of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) as liquid biopsy for the prognosis, treatment, identification, and tracking of brain tumor genomic alterations.

This novel approach, reported in Nature Communications, not only represents a potential tool for stratifying patients, assessing their prognoses, and closely monitoring the course of disease and their response to therapy in ‘real time’, in a minimally invasive manner, but also mirrors successes to-date of applying liquid biopsy across other tumor types.

The potential of liquid biopsy ‘policing’ of cancer

In my Foreword to last year’s report I announced our collaboration with Merck Serono and Sysmex Inostics, whereby VHIO was the first academic test center to use in-house BEAMing liquid biopsy RAS biomarker technology. Already promising a more precise treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer patients by improved determination of which patients stand to benefit from anti-epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) therapies such as cetuximab, I am delighted to report that this RAS biomarker test has just received European Conformity approval (CE Mark), which makes it available and accessible for patients in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Based on our own experiences at VHIO, we continue to witness first-hand how this technology is more accurately and rapidly guiding treatment decisions for an increasing number of our patients. As an example, we co-led the first large clinical trial, the CORRECT phase III study, to compare liquid versus conventional tissue biopsy data. The data, published in July 2015 in The Lancet Oncology, showed that BEAMing technology produced more data on tumor mutation throughout the course of the disease, enabling us to better target therapy to individual patients.

The importance of the CORRECT trial is that, unlike the majority of clinical studies published on the use of DNA in blood to determine tumor genotype which have only enrolled relatively small numbers of patients, it involved a large number of patients, providing correlative analyses on the activity of regorafenib, an inhibitor of diverse proteins implicated in tumor evolution, in all the subgroups in which mutations had been identified.

Although there remain critical questions concerning the clinical validity and accuracy of the liquid biopsy, such as the possibility that not all tumors release enough DNA into the blood for it to be detected, as well as the challenge of assigning a particular genotype for each particular tumor in patients with multiple metastases, this study is representative of a stream of compelling research that points to liquid biopsies as the future of cancer detection and an essential tool in clinical practice.

VHIO: dedicated to reversing cancer drug resistance

One of the major challenges in our collective efforts to combat cancer is resistance to anti-cancer therapies and strategies. At VHIO, as reported throughout this Scientific Report, we are dedicated to identifying and advancing more precise and effective novel therapeutic avenues matched to molecular subtypes of disease to reverse drug resistance and counteract tumor cell spread factors.

Work from a tremendous collaboration between investigators from VHIO and colleagues at the DanaFarber Cancer Institute in Boston revealed a new phenomenon of resistance to novel therapy for advanced lung cancer, as described in Nature Medicine in May 2015. The study, in which VHIO’s Thoracic Tumors Group and Cancer Genomics Group both participated, analysed circulating DNA in plasma and tumor biopsies from patients with advanced non-microcytic lung cancer, and consequently described resistance mutations to a novel therapy inhibiting the EGFR protein. This discovery will enable a more precise understanding as to acquired mechanisms of resistance in using this therapy and ultimately allow us to develop new molecules against this type of cancer.

Driving faster, more effective treatments ‘in mono’ or as drug-drug combinations

Utilizing targeted cancer therapeutic agents in combinations to tackle notoriously difficult to treat tumor types is often as complex as the cancer itself. At the preclinical level, thanks to the tremendously sophisticated, wide variety of modelling systems including novel contenders such as organoids and PDX models, we are advancing in our abilities to predict response to treatment, whether as monotherapy or in combination. Concerning PDX, not only does VHIO have one of the most expansive collections of these models in Europe, it is also a partner in the EuroPDX collaboration aimed at sharing key findings on promising therapeutics as well as carrying out multi-center preclinical studies. We are consequently better armed than ever before to incorporate and integrate critical preclinical insights into clinical trial design and improved patient outcomes.

Representing an excellent example of translation from preclinical findings to drug development were the results of a phase I study published in Cancer Discovery in May 2015, in which both VHIO’s Gastrointestinal & Endocrine Tumors Group and Oncology Data Science (ODysSey) Groups participated, which was also selected by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for its media program. Sym004, a mixture of two anti-EGFR antibodies, was shown to be clinically active in patients with advanced colorectal cancer that had become resistant to earlier therapies. This is a promising development for patients with advanced colorectal cancer.

As we finely-tune drug-drug combinations in clinical studies, we are also beginning to see increasingly important outcomes across tumor types. Just one example in 2015 was the phase III Cleopatra trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine. As part of an international, multicenter effort, led by VHIO’s Breast Cancer and Melanoma Group, the practice-changing data showed improved survival in patients with advanced-stage HER2-positive breast cancer by 16 months, which led to the recommendation of administering the trio of agents under study --Pertuzumab, Trastuzumab, and Docetaxel -- in the treatment of patients with this tumor type.

VHIO counted an additional seven New England Journal of Medicine publications throughout 2015 (please click here to view VHIO'S publications), two of which both promise new hope for lung cancer patients as well as position immunological strategies as game changers in the way we will be treating cancer in the future:

A phase III international trial showed novel immunotherapeutic nivolumab to be more effective over chemotherapy in the treatment of patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), with overall longer survival. Similarly, a phase I study exploring the potential efficacy of the anti-PD1 inhibitor Pembrolizumb in patients with metastatic NSCLC, showed promise in its capacity to boost the immune system to mount an effective antitumor response.

These two papers, co-authored by VHIO’s Thoracic Tumor Group, certainly provide compelling evidence on the use of novel immune agents as mono therapy or in combination, now and in the future.

My final pick of the NEJM papers published by VHIO in 2015 is a phase II basket trial, both co-designed and co-led by VHIO’s Gastrointestinal & Endocrine Tumors Group and colleagues from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC, New York). Enrolling patients who had different types of cancer with the BRAFV600 mutation, recruited from some 23 hospitals across the globe, we showed the efficacy of vemurafenib, an inhibitor of the BRAF protein, as therapy against multiple tumor types that share the BRAFV600 mutation. Importantly, this is the first broad trial of its kind that has been conducted to establish the presence of one of the most common mutations occurring in melanoma across other tumors. These results will enable us to extend the same therapy, already effective in melanoma, to other different cancers, as well as more precisely match therapy to the specificities of each patient, and ultimately slam the brakes on disease progression.

These collaborative efforts are just some of the many examples of how we are advancing our endeavours at potentiating anti-cancer therapies and finely tuning strategies to the peculiarities of each individual tumor.

VHIO among the H2020 ‘chart-toppers’

At VHIO, we continue to secure the necessary and precious funding so desperately required in our efforts to combat cancer. Fortunately as it turns out, I was right to be optimistic regarding the outcome of our proposals submitted to the biggest EU Research and Innovation program to-date totalling at almost €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014-2020): Horizon 2020.

At the close of 2015, the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI), under the auspices of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, issued a report documenting results at national level from the very first Horizon 2020 Call. Under the topic Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing, VHIO ranked among the top sixteen H2020-funded research entities across Spain. By example, we are currently participating in two pan-European H2020 projects, MoTricolor, led by VHIO, and MedBioinformatics (click here to view ‘Consortia’).

VHIO faired similarly well in the ERA-NET on Translational Cancer Research (TRANSCAN) funded proposals. Out of a total of six projects awarded from within the region of Catalonia, VHIO counted four. Tackling a range of tumor types, these projects each explore tumor heterogeneity within the context of resistance to treatment.

These gratifying successes give us no reason to become complacent. Within the extremely competitive European research arena of excellence, EU programs only support projects that promise delivery on the objectives outlined in each particular call. Based on both the existing funded projects as well as those in the pipeline (to be announced in our 2016 report) I am confident that VHIO will remain a strong contender in Calls to come.

The CELLEX building: affording VHIO with the critical space to expand its activities and programmes

I am delighted to report that 2015 celebrated the move into our new premises, the CELLEX building. Marking a new chapter in VHIO’s evolution and providing us with the valuable space through which to grow, our new home brings all our teams under the same roof which will be instrumental in further enhancing collaboration and the connection between our various programs. Crucially too, as I have previously advanced, we will be welcoming new groups over the coming months that will complement and expand our current lines of research.

VHIO Validation: rapidly translating cancer discovery into clinical benefit

Thanks to the wonderful sustained support received from our devoted institutional supporters -- the Generalitat de Catalunya, the FERO Foundation, the Fundació Bancària “la Caixa”, the Fundación BBVA, with the invaluable support from the Fundació Privada Cellex, as well as VHIO’s many other supporters, funding entities and agencies (click here for ‘Funding’) -- VHIO continues to accelerate the pace in advancing personalized and targeted therapies against cancer.

We will only continue to raise the bar in our ambitions through the public funding we receive, as well as the generous support from private institutions, companies and individuals, all of whom share the same intense desire as we do: to alleviate and reduce the devastating impact that this disease has on society.

The Last Word

Recent statistics show that cancer claimed the lives of over 8 million people worldwide in 2013 and has moved from the third leading cause of death in 1990 to now rank in second place behind cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, cancer burden is on the rise at an alarming rate, owing to a growing and aging global population as well as risk factors including smoking, obesity and dietary patterns.

In tune with the undeniable progress that we are collectively making, we all need to take a hard look at current policies and priority setting on a region-per-region basis. Without this essential overhaul, today’s advances in predictive cancer science, treatment and care, as well as prevention strategies, cannot possibly hope to benefit an increasing number of our patients, across borders, now and in the future.

We will need to work together to transform healthcare models accordingly, based on careful regional planning, the implementation of solid frameworks, and ‘local’ forecasting to ensure that resources allocated in each country throughout Europe deliver optimal outcomes.

Some difficult choices will have to be made in terms of selecting which therapy, for whom, based on clearly demonstrated benefits across patient populations. A multi-stakeholder review of cost settings and the suitably adjusted pricing of cancer therapies to enable equitable access to the most effective therapies, is also as important as investing in the cancer research itself.

Only in unison, by engaging the entire oncology ecosystem and considering the views and the perspectives of all stakeholders in oncology, including patients and families, researchers, payers, regulators, the policymakers, and industry, will we be able to pursue our dedicated efforts aimed at conquering cancer.

Only through collaboration will we continue to get smarter and move faster – we can and will do better.

Josep Tabernero
Director
Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO)

Who we are and what we do

VHIO’s Organigram 2015

In order to translate cancer discovery into real benefit for an increasing number patients, VHIO has, from Its optimal organizational structure allows VHIO the very outset, adopted a purely translational, talents to continue to both anticipate and tackle the multidisciplinary research model. Organized into four many unresolved questions in ultimately outsmarting main programs – Preclinical, Translational, Clinical, the multifaceted, heterogeneous and complex disease and Core Technologies, our research focuses on that is cancer: understanding the fundamental biology of human cancer, from cellular and molecular biology and genetics through to therapeutics.

Its optimal organizational structure allows VHIO talents to continue to both anticipate and tackle the many unresolved questions in ultimately outsmarting the multifaceted, heterogeneous and complex disease that is cancer:

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VHIO’s translation toward precision oncology: a little more on how we did it in 2015

Aside from the many highlights described by each of our groups in this report, we would like to underline a few other important factors and developments in 2015 that enabled us to further advance cancer discovery through the integration and translational science and clinical research within a multidisciplinary setting -- the winning formula behind what we do and how we do it at VHIO:

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Established in 2006, VHIO is a leading comprehensive cancer center of excellence where its scientists and research physicians adopt a purely translational research model, working together as multidisciplinary teams to both accelerate and advance personalized and targeted therapies against cancer.

Undertaking one of Spain’s most dynamic cancer research programs, VHIO is dedicated to delivering on the promise of ‘precision’ medicine in oncology – turning cancer discovery into more effective treatments and better practice for the care of our patients.

Oncogenomics and pre-screening

At the core of VHIO’s research activities lies our suite of cutting-edge core technology platforms which allow our expert teams to apply next-generation whole-genome sequencing for precision oncology as well as develop and improve existing applications to drive faster results. By sequencing panels of genes or entire genomes in cancer patients, we are now better equipped than ever before to identify specific molecular risk factors and gauge the potential efficacy of specific agents for individual patients. In parallel, these technologies (Hiseq2500, MiSeq, nCounter Nanostring), accelerate our research efforts of our preclinical, translational and clinical scientists, enabling the identification of mechanisms of resistance to targeted therapies, the study of clonal populations, as well as defining novel therapeutic opportunities based on mutation profiles.

VHIO’s pre-screening program of mutations in patients who are candidates for our portfolio of Phase I clinical trials carried out at our Research Unit for Molecular Therapy of Cancer (UITM) – “la Caixa”, is nucleated around the activity of two VHIO groups: Cancer Genomics and Molecular Oncology. Performing molecular profiling in over 1500 patients per year, we assess the molecular make-up of each patient which provides us with vital insights regarding the suitability for enrollment in clinical studies aimed at testing the efficacy of novel anticancer therapeutics. Our molecular tests for patient screening (disease-orientated mutation panels for NGS panels and nCounter Nanostring), are co-developed in partnership with our Early Clinical Drug Development Group.

As a reflection of our dedication to excellence and quality services we provide, we have under gone ISO 15189 accreditation for our main testing methods and our pre-screening efforts have already established VHIO as one of the few centers in Europe to run such a comprehensive program. We will continue to expand our efforts to an increasing number of patients thanks to the VHIO - Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) Research Alliance, representing the biggest clinical care provider in Catalonia.

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BEAMing digital PCR/flow cytometry technology: empowering VHIO’s existing suite of cutting-edge technologies.

As updated by our Director in this year’s Foreword, in collaboration with Merck Serono and Sysmex Inostics, we continue to develop our in-house BEAMing liquid biopsy RAS biomarker technology and we are already seeing how this avant-garde approach is promising a more precise treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer patients by improved stratification of which patients stand to benefit from anti-EGFR therapies. Based on results thus far, we are confident that we will increasingly evidence the power of liquid biopsy in the ‘policing’ of cancer. Having just received its European Conformity approval, this technology will be extended to conventional routine care and to additional tumor types.

By bringing more detailed prognostics directly to the clinical setting, and further developing and validating the next generation of tests, VHIO will significantly contribute to better guided treatment decisions as well as improved outcomes for patients, real time -- over time.

Pioneering early drug discovery and clinical studies tailored to the specificities of patients

VHIO has increasingly established itself as a leading reference in driving drug development and targeted therapies against cancer. It has been able to do so not only through the bridging and tight connectivity between health care professionals, VHIO scientists and physician researchers but also through its Research Unit for Molecular Therapies of Cancer (UITM) – “la Caixa” located in the patient care environment of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (see below), and set within the research context, as well as the Clinical Trials Office of the same hospital.

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Jordi Rodón, Director & Medical Coordinator of the UITM, and PI of VHIO’s Early Clinical Drug Development Group, Gemma Sala, Director of the Clinical Trials Office, with VHIO’s Director, Josep Tabernero.

Research at the UITM is led by VHIO’s Early Clinical Drug Development Group, focusing on both the development of new drugs based on the molecular profile of each tumor as well as the optimization of treatment regimens using combinations of new drugs with existing ones. In 2015, 106 Phase I clinical trials, including over a dozen trials in molecularly-selected patient populations (Basket/ Ocotpus Trials) as well as in immuno-oncology, were performed at the Unit totaling at 370 patients enrolled. The Clinical Trials Office coordinates a large portfolio of Phase I – II – III studies and consistently reports an increase in the number of trials conducted each year. In 2015 the number of patients included in our studies totaled at 979 across 289 trials.

VHIO’s direct access to cancer patients: a critical asset in VHIO’s purely translational research model

As evidenced throughout this report, across our preclinical, translational and clinical research programs, VHIO’s talents continue to advance cancer discovery and medicine (Please click here for our full list of publications in 2015). Our research endeavors largely benefit from VHIO’s privileged location within the heart of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, affording direct access to patients as well as the entire spectrum of oncology patients who care for them. Organized into multidisciplinary integrated teams, our researchers closely collaborate and interact with Vall d’Hebron physician-scientists. Translational science and clinical research are therefore tightly connected, accelerating the bench-bedside-bed cycle of knowledge.

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The Vall d’Hebron University Hospital: the largest hospital complex in Catalonia and one of the most important in Spain.

VHIO discovery aimed at stripping back cancer’s armory

Commandeering research aimed at combating cancer, our preclinical, translational and clinical researchers as corresponding/senior authors or co-authors, published 192 scientific articles in 2015 (74% Q1), with a cumulative Impact Factor totaling at 2104, and a Median Impact Factor (MIF) of 10.96. These figures reflect an increase in scientific productivity and MIF score, as well as the importance of VHIO’s research and contribution to the oncology field.

New for this year’s Scientific Report, we have invited each our Principal Investigators to select a maximum of four of their top publications among their respective lists of publications: see ‘PI PAPER PICK’ corresponding to each individual group.

For the complete list of articles published by VHIO researchers and physician-scientists in 2015 click here.

VHIO’s participation in consortia and networks of excellence

To accelerate advancements in oncology we are committed to combining strengths and overcoming current challenges in collaboration. Our cross-border alliances and partnerships will undoubtedly help to spur insights aimed at rendering cancer treatment and care more precise for an increasing number of cancer patients.

In addition to VHIO’s continued participation in some of the most forward-thinking and inspired consortia at international level (see ‘Consortia’), 2015 celebrated the launch of two major collaborations funded through EU’s Research and Innovation program, Horizon 2020:

Spurred by Horizon 2020 funding, MoTriColor, led by VHIO, is powered by a total of eight clinical research centers of excellence, spanning Spain, Italy, The Netherlands and Belgium, as well as a European organization in cancer research and a diagnostic/ prognostic SME.

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Dedicated to conducting multi-center early phase clinical trials to establish the anti-tumor activity of novel experimental therapies for patients with metastatic or advanced colorectal cancer (CRCm), patients will be stratified based on their gene expression profiles according to recently established predictive signatures.

According to gene expression profiles, patients will then be matched to a particular clinical trial. This pioneering approach aims at identifying sensitivity of individual patients to the proposed experimental therapies towards ultimately developing more precise anti-cancer therapies for these patients.

For more information and project updates visit: www.motricolor.eu.

Launched in 2015, MedBioinformatics is also supported by Horizon 2020’s European Union funding for Research and Innovation. Through the development of integrative bioinformatics tools and software applications useful and autonomously usable by translational scientists and clinical practitioners for analysing the huge amount of data and knowledge generated in healthcare and biomedical research, the project will ultimately facilitate translational research and precision medicine.

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Incorporating 13 groups from nine renowned research entities of excellence, including VHIO, this Consortium will strive to address the deficit of integrative approaches that effectively combine different types of data from different sources as well as actively involve end-users that are not experts in bioinformatics in the design of the applications.

To discover more visit: www.medbioinformatics.eu.

Other partnering opportunities in 2015

The AstraZeneca/MedImmune and VHIO’s Alliance agreement, announced in 2015, will stimulate advancements at preclinical, clinical and translational research levels across the AstraZeneca’s oncology portfolio. Combining VHIO’s strengths in promoting cancer discovery through the integration of translational science and clinical research with AstraZeneca’s promising early stage oncology pipeline, the alliance will initially focus on areas including DNA damage repair, drug resistance, new drug combinations and molecular profiles for patient selection.

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Bookmark and visit VHIO’s website for forthcoming updates www.vhio.net.

In February 2015 VHIO and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network (Toronto, Canada), signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish the principles and framework for their collaboration.

The two cancer centers will consequently seek to exchange data and share information surrounding best practice in clinical research, encourage academic collaboration by promoting faculty visits, as well as facilitate exchange among students and trainees -- representing important career development opportunities for junior faculty at both institutions of scientific excellence.

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Throughout 2015, based on common synergies and a shared forward-thinking with several other leading research entities at global level, we have been paving the way for future collaborations and key alliances - to be announced in next year’s Scientific Report, 2016.

The CELLEX building: marking a new VHIO chapter

Providing the valuable space through which to grow, VHIO’s new home, the CELLEX building, connects our multidisciplinary teams together under the same roof. This eagerly anticipated development will enable us to further accelerate our dedicated efforts aimed at conquering cancer.

Located at the top of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (HUVH) campus, nestling at the foot of the Collserola Mountains, we occupied our new 7-floor premises at the end of August 2015. With a surface area of 6500m2 we can now seek to expand our existing programs as well as incorporate new groups that both complement and develop our current lines of research.

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The CELLEX building: affording VHIO with the critical space to expand its programmes and groups.

As this Scientific Report goes to print we are about to open our new Animal Facility which occupies the basement of the CELLEX building. With a dedicated surface area of 1347 m2 and a capacity of 5471 cages, this Facility incorporates the very latest platforms and technologies including a high-sensitivity in-vivo imaging technology platform, computed tomography (CT) for high resolution 3D anatomical imaging, and a MicroPET R4 scanner specifically engineered for analyzing small animal models of human disease.

Thanks to our new building and facilities, we are already seeing the benefits of even closer connectivity among and across our programs and groups. 2015 consequently marked the beginning of VHIO’s next chapter in translation toward precision oncology.

With the invaluable support from:

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VHIO-organized events: stimulating thought-provoking, two-way exchange

In 2015 VHIO opened its doors to participants at the following events:

VHIO’s Meet the Editors

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Continuing with our VHIO Meet the Editors series of specially programmed talks, in 2015 we invited M. Teresa Villanueva, Senior Editor of Nature Reviews Cancer, to deliver the next in these insightful presentations. True to the established fame and format of these educational opportunities that were devised by VHIO back in 2011, the session provided oncology professionals of research institutes of excellence in Barcelona with unique opportunity to learn more about scientific publishing and cancer research and put questions and comments directly to M. Teresa Villanueva during the Q & A with the audience. More specifically, her talk included a stepwise look at the life of a Review, including commissioning, developmental editing, the assessment of unsolicited Reviews, and a glance into a ’day in the life’ of a Reviews editor.

Over the past five years we have been extremely fortunate to have welcomed Senior Editors of some of the most prestigious publications in oncology and biomedicine including: Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Medicine, Cancer Cell, The Lancet Oncology, Cancer Discovery, Annals of Oncology, and most recently of course, Nature Reviews Cancer.

The Weizmann Institute of Science and VHIO exploration of latest insights into Cellular Communication in Translational Research

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Superbly hosted by WIS, this jointly organized meeting incorporated an outstanding panel of speakers cherry-picked by scientific Co-Chairs Irit Sagi, Principal Investigator, Department of Biological Regulation, and Dean of the Fienberg Graduate School at WIS, and Joaquín Arribas, Director of Preclinical Research at VHIO:

Cell Communication in Translational Research – bringing basic research into the clinic, 22 – 23 January 2015, Rehovot, Israel.

This two-day conference not only provided a platform through which to share and debate the latest research in the realm of cell communication in cancer, but also endorsed the research strengths and synergies between WIS and VHIO. As we consider the successes of this first joint initiative, we are more than confident that the meeting also represented the ‘kick-off’ for future partnering including research projects, an exchange program, and perhaps even a conference sequel to come.

Conference Report

VHIO’s ad-hoc Courses, Workshops & Observerships

Based on specific research lines and areas that have successfully established VHIO as a leading international reference, we share our expertise, learn from eminent guest speakers, discuss and debate our latest findings through the organization of VHIO adhoc courses and workshops as well as VHIO Faculty attendance at International Cancer Conferences.

Coming soon to VHIO: Towards Predictive Cancer Models, 26 – 27 May 2016

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As this Scientific Report goes to print, we are making the necessary preparations for our forthcoming Special VHIO Symposium, Towards Predictive Cancer Models, 26 -27 May, 2016.

Co-chaired by VHIO’s Joaquín Arribas, Director of Preclinical Research, and Laura Soucek, Principal Investigator of our Mouse Models of Cancer Therapies Group, this international meeting has been expertly engineered to bring together an expert panel of internationally acclaimed speakers who will present and debate on and around the five especially selected sessions:

Cancer Immunology and Tumor Microenvironment, New Prospectives, Circumventing Therapy Resistance, Redefining the Targets, and New Opportunities from Human Tumor Samples: Explants, Organoids, and PDX.

Just some of the must-have conversations during our Symposium will focus on future study design and how best to report, validate and share results so that we can ultimately build on the undeniable progress marked to-date by each and every model explored throughout our two-day symposium. We will be updated on the very latest research evidencing the ’tried, tested and validated’ of a variety of modeling systems and combined approaches across various tumor types as well as cutting-edge data coming from within the ‘stable’ of novel contenders -- organoids and PDX models. We will also discuss how data from preclinical models can be complementary to tumor genetic testing and thus push the boundaries of sequence-based approaches.

Our focus will center firmly on empowering current predictive cancer models by pooling knowledge, sharing perspectives, and moving together to more swiftly and more cost-effectively advance cancer precision medicine.

On behalf of VHIO, the Symposium Co-Chairs gratefully thank the generous support received from the “la Caixa” Foundation:

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To view the Scientific Program and discover more please visit VHIO’s website: http://www.vhio.net (select ’Events’ > ’Symposia’)