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RCSI joins €11.9m SFI research precision oncology collaboration

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SFI research precision oncology collaboration

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD has announced an €11.9 million research collaboration in the field of precision oncology, which is supported by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Strategic Partnership Programme.

Precision Oncology Ireland is a consortium of five Irish higher education institutions, including RCSI, six Irish cancer research charities and 10 companies aiming to develop new diagnostics and therapeutics for the personalised treatment of cancer.

Precision or personalised medicine uses data about a person’s genes, along with additional information on their cancer, to understand the unique pathways of a disease or treatment response in that person. With this new science, doctors can prescribe the right treatment in a timely fashion, saving the wasted resources and time our current ‘trial and error’ method incurs, while greatly improving response rates.

Cancer survivor and patient advocate Ramon Whelan spoke of the importance of this game-changing research for patient’s lives: “I’m delighted to see researchers, charities and industry coming together in Ireland to focus as a group on the problems in cancer treatments. Cancer patients want to become more involved in their own treatment decisions, and more personalised diagnostics and treatments are essential for this to happen.”

The initiative is supported by a €5m Government investment through the SFI Strategic Partnership Programme, matched by a €6.9m investment from the charity and industry partners making up the Precision Oncology Ireland consortium – the first time that researchers, charities and industry have combined forces in this way.

Speaking at the launch, Professor Walter Kolch, Director of Precision Oncology Ireland, said: “Using modern technologies, we can produce more data on cancer than ever before, the greatest challenge now is in integrating and interpreting this data, and understanding what it means for patients.

“In Precision Oncology Ireland, we will use cutting-edge technologies to generate unique genetic and molecular profiles for each patient’s cancer. Our key competitive advantage lies in the innovative computational methods we use to make sense of these profiles, and decipher what drives each individual cancer. The results of this programme will be better diagnostics, personalised cancer treatment and faster drug discovery and development.”

Speaking at the launch, Minister Humphreys TD, said: “I am delighted to announce this significant step forward for cancer research in Ireland. This innovative programme has the potential to position Ireland as a world leader in the field of precision oncology.

“Precision Oncology Ireland is a significant investment, not only from Government, but also from the charity and industry partners in the programme, testimony to their conviction that this initiative will lead to the development of new cancer treatments and make a difference for future cancer patients and their families in our country. I look forward to seeing the impact that this research programme will have in the future.”

In Ireland, more than 40,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Precision approaches to oncology give hope of improving cancer patients’ response rates and survival, reducing side-effects from therapy, shortening hospital stays and balancing out any increased cost to the healthcare system. The National Cancer Strategy (2017-2026) called for the introduction of precision diagnostics and therapeutics into frontline cancer care.

Welcoming the initiative, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of SFI, said: “The SFI Strategic Partnership Programme aims to foster partnerships across academia, charity and industry to address key research questions and enhance the competitiveness of our economy. Ireland has unique and world-leading expertise in precision oncology. This transformative research programme harnesses that expertise to allow real progress in embedding personalised medicine for cancer in our healthcare system, putting Ireland ahead of the competition in a growth market.”

The RCSI Principal Investigators on the programme are Professor Leonie Young, Professor Bryan Hennessy, Professor Tracey Robson and Professor Darran O’Connor.

Professor Fergal O’Brien, Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI, welcomed the launch of the collaboration: “Through innovation and collaboration in research, RCSI places the patient at the centre of all we do, leading discoveries by addressing important Irish and international health challenges. As a focused health science institution with a strong expertise in high-quality research, RCSI is proud to join this innovative collaboration and we look forward to driving advances to improve outcomes for cancer patients by optimising diagnosis and therapy.”