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Poto: Parc Científic de Barcelona.

The VHIR and Oncoheroes to partner for development of novel therapies for childhood sarcomas

Oncoheroes Biosciences, exclusively focused on advancing new therapies for children with cancer, and Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) have entered into a partnership to collaborate in the discovery and development of innovative therapies for paediatric sarcomas. This alliance wants to strengthen the links of cooperation and the creation of synergies between the Oncoheroes Discovery Lab, led by Dr. Eva Mendez at the Barcelona Science Park, and the Sarcoma Laboratory in the Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders research group at VHIR, led by Dr Josep Roma.

Survival rates in childhood cancer have improved considerably in recent decades, with an overall survival close to 80% in developed countries. However, some of the most common solid tumours, such as soft tissue or bone sarcomas, still show an adverse prognosis in a high percentage of patients (nearly 40%). Sarcomas in children account for approximately 14% of cases and 20% of deaths in childhood cancers.

Oncoheroes Biosciences Discovery Lab, located at Barcelona Science Park and led by Dr. Eva Mendez, focuses on discovering and developing novel oncology drugs for those paediatric cancers with the highest unmet needs. “Paediatric sarcoma patients have not seen any significant improvement in treatment options in decades. We are excited to initiate this collaboration with Dr. Josep Roma, a recognized expert in this type of childhood cancer,” stated Dr. Mendez, Oncoheroes’ Chief Discovery Officer. “We strongly believe that academic-industry collaborations are key to discover the new generation of drugs for childhood sarcomas.”

Dr. Josep Roma is leading the Sarcoma Laboratory in the Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders research group at VHIR. His current research focuses on discovering new therapeutic targets in rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), the most common soft tissue sarcoma in the paediatric population, by characterizing the role of embryonic pathways: Notch, Wnt, and Hedgehog. These pathways are essential during embryonic development and could have high oncogenic potential when an abnormal activation in childhood sarcomas is present.

Oncoheroes and VHIR’s collaboration will focus on the Hedgehog pathway, where recent studies led by Dr. Roma have identified novel targets for paediatric sarcomas with high therapeutic potential, not disclosed yet. The academic group has demonstrated that the inhibition of some specific targets results in killing selectively cancerous cells in both in vitro and in vivo models. Oncoheroes will rationally design new inhibitors and conduct high throughput screening campaigns for identifying new active compounds that will be later optimized in collaboration with Dr. Roma.

“The oncogenic mechanisms that we will evaluate in this collaboration are not exclusive to a single tumour type, but are activated in a wide spectrum of sarcomas and other cancers,” added Dr. Roma. “By combining the academic know-how generated at our research group, and the drug development and paediatric expertise from Oncoheroes’ team, we are confident we can accelerate the development of new targeted therapies for this underserved paediatric population”.