EU invests 12 million euro to take the ATTACK to cancer

November 10, 2005

Brussels, 09 Nov 2005

A new research project is being launched with nearly 12 million euro of Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) funding, with the aim of better understanding how cancer cells are able to evade the human immune system, and possibly contributing to the development of new cancer treatments.

An international consortium of 16 partners will collaborate in the five-year ATTACK project (adoptive engineered T-cell targeting to activate cancer killing), under the coordination of Robert Hawkins at the University of Manchester, UK. The funding is provided under the 'Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' priority of FP6.

T-cells are the body's natural defence against infections and certain cancers, and can be used to treat some malignant diseases. Many cancer tumours are however currently able to avoid destruction. 'T-cell mediated immunotherapy' uses state of the art technologies to engineer T-cells with artificial receptors in order to target cancer tumours, and the ATTACK project aims to refine this technique further. The approach was first developed by Zelig Eshhar from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who is also a member of the project consortium.

According to Professor Hawkins: 'Unlike radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which destroy both cancerous and healthy cells, engineered T-cell therapy has the potential to selectively destroy cancers within a patient's body using its own infection-fighting mechanisms. This project focuses on optimising that system in the laboratory.'

He continued: 'The ultimate aim is to develop a process whereby T-cells are taken from the blood of a patient, genetically modified to enable them to target tumours, multiplied in the laboratory and injected in large numbers back into the patient.'

Many of the partners involved in ATTACK have a strong track record of EU collaboration, and represent leading research institutions with expertise in T-cell engineering, immunology and tumour biology. As Professor Hawkins explains: 'By bringing together many of the leading immunotherapy groups in Europe we will be able to combine basic scientific expertise, new technologies and experience in pre-clinical testing, and our coordinated efforts should facilitate enormous progress.'

He concluded: 'We expect the project to lead to many more trials in the future and are hopeful it could lead to real improvements in treatment.'

Further information

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