There is fierce competition in the ocean habitat. In order to survive there, marine organisms defend themselves against their rivals using an entire arsenal of chemical weapons. With the help of these substances they attack hostile cells, overcome their defence system and thus are interesting active substance candidates for cancer research. The Tyrolean Center for Personalized Cancer Medicine Oncotyrol screens within the European research consortium OPTATIO marine extracts and active substances in search of new methods against multiple myeloma, a tumour of the bone marrow. At the recently held 1st Drug Screening Discussion in Innsbruck Oncotyrol scientist Winfried Wunderlich presented the first promising results.
OPTATIO (OPtimizing TArgets and Therapeutics In high risk and refractOry Multiple Myeloma) is a consortium of twelve European partners, including Oncotyrol. The Multiple Myeloma is addressed by collaborative efforts in the OPTATIO consortium because it is a very complex and still incurable disease. Therefore it is important that several countries and institutions share their know-how and resources to tackle one of the eight most lethal cancers in Europe. OPTATIO is directed by Wolfgang Willenbacher of the Innsbruck Medical University. It was established at the beginning of 2012 with a budget of 4.3 million Euros for three years. First results of the research activity are visible now.
Up to now, research on multiple myeloma cancer cells has frequently considered them as isolated entities. However, this approach disregards the fact that the environment of the bone marrow, in particular the stromal bone tissue, the immune cells and the connective tissue cells, protects cancer cells with the aid of different substances in a so-called niche. In this biochemical shelter drugs are often not effective in patients although they have been successful in laboratory tests on isolated cancer cells. Or they are ineffective in the long term because the cancer cells become resistant. OPTATIO pursues the unique strategy to get through this protective shield for a better cancer treatment. In doing so, marine-based active substances are especially attractive candidates as they have evolutionarily proven their capacity to survive in the chemical fight of marine organisms.
Oncotyrol as one of the consortium partners develops test systems comprising cancer as well as connective tissue cells and thus coming closer to the actual conditions in the human body. On such "in-vivo like assays" Oncotyrol scientists from Prof. Lukas Huber's team have recently tested hundreds of marine extracts and also pure substances of the Spanish biopharmaceutical company PharmaMar who is also a consortium partner. Most important in the screening process was that the candidates kill the cancer cells yet leave the niche cells intact, reported Winfried Wunderlich of Oncotyrol at the meeting in Innsbruck. "We are looking for substances which disable the protective influence of the stroma on the cancer cells but do not destroy the connective tissue cells themselves", explained Mr. Wunderlich to the members of the international consortium. In doing so, the Tyrolean researchers have made good progress in achieving promising screening results. Indeed, the results revealed that a considerable part of the examined extracts and pure substances selectively affect the tumor cells, that is to say the protective shield had been broken. Mr. Wunderlich was pleased and said: "These candidates are extremely active".
As a next step the Oncotyrol scientists want to make their test systems even more realistic and investigate the promising candidates in further coculture and animal models also in cooperation with other partners, including the University of Würzburg and the companies Vichem and ProQinase.