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far away from a potential therapy. Yet thanks to ERC funding, we are

showing that these compounds can be revolutionary in cancer treatment.

Myc is deregulated in the majority of human cancers, which means that

if we develop a drug against Myc, we could potentially treat many, if not

all, human cancers with this inhibitor.

“Recently the successes in cancer therapy have been achieved through

personalised medicine. We are going back to the drawing board and are

trying to find something that is common to different types of cancer, and

then develop an inhibitor that could be applied to all of them.”

Target 2018

The ERC project runs until 2018 and it is hoped that all preclinical

validation of the drug will be completed, thus enabling the

commencement of clinical trials. There is also an increasing focus on

commercialisation, with a spin-off company already created to aid such

efforts and accelerate progress.

“Thanks to the ERC,” said Soucek, “we can proceed to preclinical

validation without private investment.” The researcher will also be looking

for further ERC grants to advance the project and its commercialisation.

With wide-ranging potential, the development of Omomyc into a clinically

viable drug is symbolic of both the important research that the ERC

supports and the goal of Horizon 2020 in bringing more new products

to market. With a seemingly immoveable scientific barrier now

demolished, commercialisation is the next major challenge to realising

the great potential of Omomyc.

for the first time

in vivo

in mice, and an

unexpected discovery was made.

“We were working on a mouse model of lung

tumourigenesis and saw that the inhibitor was

extremely efficient in attacking the tumour, even

eradicating it. Yet the big surprise for everybody

was that there were only very mild side effects

in normal tissues. It looked like Omomyc was a

very specific gene therapy, and showed side

effects that were much more gentle than

chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It was a very

effective tool against cancer.

“This was a breakthrough for the Myc field, and

since then the interest in inhibiting Myc

changed completely. Around the world now,

many groups are trying to create their own Myc

inhibitor. Yet, so far, Omomyc has proven to be

the most efficient one, both

in vitro

and

in vivo.

Drug conversion

Such a breakthrough has led to studies into

how Omomyc may be converted into a drug,

as Soucek explained: “For the past 20 years,

Omomyc has been a proof of principle and

used as gene therapy. We are now attempting

to translate Omomyc into a pharmaceutical

option for cancer patients and create a

specific drug.

“The big challenge is that Omomyc has been

considered a molecule that is too bulky and

unfit to be a drug. Yet our preliminary data

generated during the first phase of the ERC

project showed that the Omomyc peptide

(the mini protein that we designed) is able to

spontaneously penetrate the tumour cells and

kill them selectively. We hope this will become

a therapeutic option for cancer patients by the

end of the ERC project; we are progressing

quickly with our work, along with the first

validation of this new compound.”

Crucial backing

The researcher commented that funding from

the ERC has been central to realising this latest

development in Omomyc, and the project is a

“perfect example” of the “high risk, high gain”

ventures that the blue sky body funds. As

Soucek observed, there is great potential for

tackling a large number of cancers, and the

final results of the ERC-backed project will be

published at the end of the year.

“It’s a challenging project – we are talking

about molecules that have been considered so

Dr Laura Soucek

Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology

B R OW S E

www.vhio.net www.erc.europa.eu

H O R I Z O N

2 0 2 0

www.horizon2020projects.com

H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L

I S S U E S E V E N

147

C A N C E R & C A R D I O V A S C U L A R D I S E A S E

Mouse models have

been used to test the

effectiveness of the

Myc inhibitor