ERC Synergy Grant: Basel scientists receive EUR 11 million for Cancer Research

How do tumors become resistant to cancer drugs? Four Swiss scientists are addressing this question and have joined to form a research network. With their project “Mechanisms of Evasive Resistance in Cancer” (MERiC), Prof. Michael Hall from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Prof. Gerhard Christofori and Prof. Markus Heim from the Department of Biomedicine also at the University of Basel and Prof. Niko Beerenwinkel from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) from ETH Zurich in Basel were able to prevail in a Europe-wide and highly competitive selection process.

Out of 449 applications, only 13 projects were accepted. The European Research Council is supporting the four scientists coming from fundamental research, clinical research and computational biology with EUR 11.2 million (CHF 13.7 million) of funding for the next 6 years.

How tumors develop resistance
In their project, the scientists aim to discover what happens within the cell when tumors become resistant to cancer drugs. Drug resistance is a major problem and stands in the way of successful cancer treatment. Particularly in the last few years, intensive research has led to the development of targeted drugs that, however, have not yet been able to eliminate cancer. Even though modern drugs are designed to specifically interrupt cancer-related signaling networks, tumor cells still find alternative ways to continue their uncontrolled growth.

“Within the framework of the MERiC project, we want to identify such alternative signaling pathways,” explains Hall. “To do this, we will examine tumor biopsies taken from cancer patients before and during drug treatment as well as samples from when the tumor starts to grow again. We will generate a kind of global snap shot of the cells and then trace changes in the signaling pathways.” The elucidation of the various strategies used by cancer cells to evade targeted therapies is fundamental for the identification of biomarkers specific for cancer recognition and for more effective treatments. “The generous support of the ERC will enable our team to get to the bottom of tumor resistance using a comprehensive and systematic basic science approach in combination with the clinic,” says Hall.

“This is a fantastic success for Mike Hall and I think that we all wish him the very greatest of success with this ambitious project,” says Professor Edwin Constable, Vice-Rector for Research of the University of Basel. “This is the first ERC Synergy Grant that we have received in Basel and we believe it to be the first awarded to a corresponding principal investigator in Switzerland. The project fits exceptionally well in the University strategy and further strengthens the place of translational research linking basic laboratory research with clinical application and patients. The understanding of signaling processes in cells and organs lies at the heart of developing strategies to combat the killer diseases.”

Big funding for small research groups
The ERC Synergy Grants are a new instrument for financial funding from the European Union. They support groups of two to four outstanding scientists and their teams in conducting interdisciplinary projects, thus bringing together the various areas of expertise of the participating scientists and promoting synergies. In choosing the research projects to be awarded, scientific excellence is the sole criterion. The ERC Synergy Grants haven been awarded for the first time in 2012.

Further Information
• Prof. Dr. Michael N. Hall, University of Basel, Biozentrum, phone +41 61 267 21 50, Email: m.hall@unibas.ch
• Prof. Dr. Edwin C. Constable, Vice Rector for Research, University of Basel, phone: +41 61 267 10 01, email: edwin.constable@unibas.ch

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