Laura Soucek, an ICREA Research Professor, Director of VHIO’s Experimental Therapeutics Program, and Head of our Models of Cancer Therapies Group, has received a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant to maximize the use of the first clinically viable MYC inhibitor.

This ERC funding program is amongst the EU’s most prestigious and competitive, providing leading senior researchers with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs. The new grants, worth in total nearly €652 million, are part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme. Only about fourteen per cent of ERC applicants are awarded these grants.

Bringing the first MYC inhibitor closer to the clinic

MYC is a multipurpose oncogene found deregulated in most human cancers. In normal cells, this transcription factor is tightly regulated and plays a pivotal role in a variety of cellular processes including cell growth, division and metabolism. However, the overexpression of MYC in cancer cells enables tumors to grow, thrive and resist anti-cancer therapies. Due to MYC’s undisputed role as a master regulator of intra- and extracellular factors of tumorigenesis, it has long been one of the most sought-after drug targets in cancer. Nevertheless, no MYC inhibitor has yet reached clinical approval.

Directed by Laura Soucek, two decades of research aimed at therapeutically targeting the “undruggable” MYC led to the in-house development of the Omomyc (OMO-103), the first MYC-inhibiting mini-protein to have successfully completed a phase Ia clinical trial. Based on this success, a phase Ib trial is currently underway to evaluate OMO-103 as first-line treatment combined with standard of care chemotherapy in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. This study is led by Teresa Macarulla, Head of VHIO’s Upper Gastrointestinal and Endocrine Tumors Group.

“Supported by this ERC Advanced Grant, the overarching goal of our MYCiMAX project is to maximize the use of this compound, as both a therapeutic and study tool, and open new lines of research to decipher different aspects of MYC biology,” says Laura Soucek.

Delving into MYC biology and exploring the translational applicability of Omomyc in different clinical cancer settings

One key objective of MYCiMAX is to identify a means for Omomyc to efficiently cross the blood-brain barrier for the treatment of patients with glioblastoma and/or brain metastases. The Soucek lab will also evaluate the combination of Omomyc with other targeted therapies, such as PARP and KRAS inhibitors, toward better understanding the role of MYC in DNA damage response (DDR) as well as the molecular mechanisms governing oncogenic crosstalk. Laura’s team will also seek to characterize subtypes of small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) with specific molecular characteristics that could also benefit from treatment with Omomyc.

The main objectives of this project are to explore new aspects of MCY biology, trace new lines of research into the most deregulated oncogene in human tumors, as well as establish the immediate translational applicability of Omomyc in future clinical trials,” concludes Soucek.

Announced today, the ERC has named the 255 outstanding research leaders in Europe who have been awarded with ERC Advanced Grants:

https://erc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/2024-04/erc-2023-adg-results-all-domains.pdf

About the ERC

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. Since November 2021, Maria Leptin is the President of the ERC. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel.

About VHIO

The Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), established in 2006 and located within the Vall d’Hebron Campus, is a reference comprehensive cancer center for personalized medicine in oncology. Through our purely translational and multidisciplinary research model, we aim to improve the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer by transforming the latest scientific discoveries made in the laboratory into early phase clinical trials for the development of more effective therapies to improve the quality of life and survival of cancer patients.

VHIO forms part of the CERCA – Research Centres of Catalonia system and is accredited as a Severo Ochoa Center of Excellence.

Research at VHIO would not be possible without the support received from our patrons – Generalitat de Catalunya, Fundació Privada CELLEX, “La Caixa” Foundation, Fundación FERO, and the Fundación BBVA, the public funding it receives as well as the generous support from institutional supporters, private institutions, companies, associations, societies, and individual donors. Only with such continued support will VHIO continue to advance personalized and targeted therapies against cancer.

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