Covid-19 has delayed cancer clinical trial programs



María Blasco recalls that investment in science “is not even at the levels prior to 2010”
Scientists gathered at the meeting ‘A new era for cancer research: towards the involvement of the whole society’, organized by the National Center for Cancer Research (CNIO), have asked to increase resources for cancer research and streamline processes so that the results of the investigations reach the patient sooner.

“Investment in science, although it has increased timidly in the last budgets, is not even at the levels prior to 2010, before the economic crisis began to be felt. The cuts in science have destroyed a lot of science and a lot of capacity to attract talent “, stated at the meeting the director of the CNIO and head of the Telomeres and Telomerase Group of the Center, Maria Blasco.

Likewise, the head of the H12O-CNIO Lung Cancer Clinical Research Unit and head of the Medical Oncology Service of the 12 de Octubre University Hospital, Luis Paz-Ares, has indicated that society has to rise up against this situation, warning of that you have to be vigilant with the promises that are made from politics.

“We invest very little in cancer research compared to neighboring countries, less than half that of France and less than a third of Germany. Cancer is a first-rate public health problem that affects many families ”, the oncologist added.

The other outstanding aspect during the meeting was the need to “accelerate the processes”. Thus, in Blasco’s view, it is “essential” that not so much time passes between the basic discovery and the drug. “This is our most immediate challenge because research is always ahead of treatments,” he highlighted.

In addition, with the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation has worsened, since, as detailed by Paz-Ares, clinical trial programs have been delayed and cancer diagnoses have been reduced by half in many countries. In this sense, the director of the CNIO has highlighted “the fragility of human civilization.”

The importance of influencing metastasis

Likewise, Blasco recalled the importance of influencing research on metastasis and the need to speed up the transfer of the results of basic research to clinical results and, therefore, to patients.

On the other hand, Francis Mojica, professor of the Department of Physiology, Genetics and Microbiology of the University of Alicante, considered the father of the Crispr gene editing technique, has given the keynote ‘Solving enigmas, fighting ailments, delighting us with Crispr ‘.

Specifically, the expert has exposed how gene editing can help treat cancer in different ways. “One of them, extremely useful, is the identification of therapeutic targets. One of the advantages of Crispr is that it allows you to screen the entire genome. There are 20,000 genes that code for proteins. Studies are done in which all the genes in that genome are modified to see what happens and thus find out which genes are related, for example, with the development of leukemia or with 30 different types of cancer. And we can also see what is the effect of eliminating the function of these genes, “he argued.

Being a genetic disease, cancer is one of the diseases whose study benefits the most from this technology. “Its continuous improvements will ensure increasingly sophisticated cancer research, and open the way to future precision medicine therapies that specifically target tumor cells,” said the professor.

Another utility of Crispr is that it makes it possible to generate experimental models, animal models. “Cells modified with Crispr are implanted in worms or mice, to see the evolution of a cancer and look for its weak points,” Mojica explained, to add that Crispr has managed to cure a tumor by injecting it with the tools of these techniques. “With a variant called Crispra, the expression of several genes is activated to eliminate a tumor,” Mojica added.

During his lecture he also explained how these tools facilitate the study of living beings in a way unthinkable in the pre-Crispr era, also making it possible to answer questions and solve previously unapproachable problems.

The many applications of Crispr

Regarding the applications of Crispr, Professor Mojica has also addressed its use, for example, in plants to, among other things, increase their ability to improve anticancer drugs produced with them or to avoid the use of components toxic in them that may be related to the acquisition of cancer.

“Now in Spain the five-year survival of a patient diagnosed with cancer exceeds 55%”
These prevention-focused techniques are also useful, for example, getting some plants to have a very low level of nicotine. In any case, according to Mojica, the Crispr technique is “improvable”. “There is still a lot of room to improve the efficiency and robustness of these systems and, consequently, their safety”, he asserted.

At a meeting, the president of the Rosae Association of breast cancer patients, María Luisa Villafranca, summarized the importance of this issue in the phrase: “Research is life.” “Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago until now, the treatments have evolved a lot, now they are more personalized, adapted to each tumor. And this progress must continue to be supported. It should not be necessary for a global pandemic to arrive for us to realize how important research is, ”she detailed.

And, precisely on this advance, Luis Paz-Ares wanted to highlight a fact that illustrates what the work that these scientists do contributes. “The five-year survival of a patient diagnosed with cancer was a few years ago in the 30 percent range. Now, in our country, it exceeds 55 percent. And this is thanks to many advances and the ability to translate them into diagnostic methods ”, he has settled.

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