Three institutes in France, the Netherlands and Sweden have formed the European Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance (ECCCA) to develop and implement innovative strategies for improving cancer treatment and reducing related side-effects.

The centres, the Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris, the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI-AVL) in Amsterdam and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, will immediately launch three clinical trials that yoke novel radiation techniques to translational research in addressing breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and high-precision irradiation of tumours.

According to NKI-AVL, ECCCA will use a combination of genomics, proteomics and preclinical evaluation tools to identify promising agents for early clinical trials, with a strong emphasis on bringing together radiotherapy and rationally designed, targeted compounds.

The collaboration will kick off with an inaugural symposium at NKI-AVL on 5 September, at which ECCA will present its strategic plan, technical platforms and details of its first three translational studies. Each of the trials was proposed by one of the three institutes and will be conducted in all three.

The project led by NKI-AVL involves image-guided radiotherapy and posits “a new concept in breast-conserving treatment” for cancer. Accordingly, only the tumour, rather than the whole breast, will be irradiated.

The treatment will consist of a short irradiation schedule using image-guided techniques and a CT (computerised tomography) scan. The tumour’s response to treatment will be measured with PET (positron emission tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) spectrometry, while genetic analysis will be performed on the tumour tissue.

The aim is to determine which patients are suitable for this form of limited, short-term treatment. In addition, genetic changes during irradiation should indicate which drugs could enhance the cell-killing impact of the treatment.

The study initiated by the Karolinska Institutet focuses on stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), a technique pioneered at the Swedish cancer centre. It will be applied to both primary and metastatic tumours, followed by conventional chemotherapy. The objective is to control tumours in locations that can be identified by novel imaging technologies (e.g., PET, CT scans) and thus to substantially prolong patient survival while countering tumour-related symptoms.

The Institut Gustave Roussy is leading a study that will target the P13-kinase/AKT/mTOR pathway, which is regarded as critical in enabling tumours to escape radiation-induced cell death in non-small cell lung cancer. The trial will combine radiotherapy for locally advanced, non-metastatic non-small cell cancer, sequential radio-chemotherapy and everolimus (RAD001, Novartis), a drug that inhibits the mTOR protein, a central regulator of tumor cell division and blood vessel growth in cancer cells.

The initial goal will be to assess the safety of this treatment combination. At the same time, prospective functional and metabolic imaging will be used to monitor tumour responses. Tumour tissue will also be collected prospectively to define the molecular patterns of responding tumours.