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UK, Netherlands Partners Receive $19M for Tumor Genomics Project

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Investigators in the UK and the Netherlands have partnered to use genome sequencing to uncover genomic and biochemical characteristics of four human cancers and to screen drug combinations aimed at creating personalized treatments.

The researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Netherlands Cancer Institute, or NKI, have been awarded a £14.5 million ($18.9 million) Synergy grant from the European Research Council to fund the effort, which is part of the ERC's CombatCancer initiative, the European Commission said yesterday.

The partners will combine deep genome sequencing of human and mouse tumors and in vitro drug screens of primary tumor cultures and cancer cell lines as well as computational analysis to develop predictions about how tumors and patients will respond to drugs. They plan to focus on four main cancer types, including breast, colorectal, melanoma, and thoracic cancers such as mesothelioma and small-cell lung cancer.

These studies will then be validated in genetically engineered mice and in human tissues that are grafted onto mice.

The hope is that these studies will enable the researchers to identify diagnostic biomarkers and combination drug therapies that are able to overcome resistance in a range of experimental cancer models.

The final two years of the six-year project are to focus on clinical trials of the markers and therapies they identified.

The project, which got underway in May, is being led by professors Anton Berns and Daniel Peeper at NKI and by professors David Adams and Michael Stratton from the Cancer Genome Project at the Sanger Institute.

Berns' lab at NKI is focused on genetically engineering mouse cancer models for use in studying tumor initiation, progression, metastasis, and tumor maintenance, and for evaluating intervention strategies.

Peeper's lab, meanwhile, seeks to identify new intervention strategies by studying how cells override cancer proliferation and looking into the mechanisms that underlie oncogene addiction and metastasis, primarily in melanoma and breast cancer.

Adams' research has focused on genetic screens for cancer genes and pathways, and he heads a program to decode the genomes of mouse strains. He also leads the Mouse Genomes Project and the Mouse Genetics Project, which involve sequencing and assembling and phenotyping mouse strains.

Stratton, the director of the Sanger Institute and a joint head of the Cancer Genome Project, focuses on genome-wide searches for somatic mutations to identify new cancer genes and to understand the role of mutagenesis in human cancers.