The major medical challenge in Europe today
Cancer survival rates are higher in Austria than in many other countries in Europe. This is a tribute to the Austrian medical profession but also to a long list of pioneering businesses supplying services, treatments and innovative technologies. Austria is at the forefront in the fight against cancer in Europe and plays a leading part in the worldwide campaign with several pioneering initiatives. As there are many different kinds of cancer, the field needs multidisciplinary teams working together to tackle it. Be it innovative immunotherapy, novel molecular targets or radiation therapy, researchers and oncologists throughout Austria are working to develop and commercialise diagnostics and treatments.
- Primary research: the frontiers of oncology
- Cutting-edge diagnostic and screening technologies
- New treatment approaches
Primary research: the frontiers of oncology
At the core of Austrian cancer research are multidisciplinary research networks bringing industry, healthcare and primary research together. For instance, the Comprehensive Cancer Center Vienna (CCC) established by the General Hospital, the Medical University of Vienna (MUW) seeks to discover mechanisms leading to cancer development and progression with the goal of improving the prevention, diagnosis and therapy of malignant diseases, reducing morbidity and mortality from cancer. Another example is the Austrian Breast & Colorectal Cancer Study Group (ABCSG), an important Austrian organisation that performs internationally successful clinical trials in breast and colon cancer. A radical treatment initiative for breast cancer patients with small tumours and non-affected lymph nodes in ABSCG hospitals resulted in a remarkable 80% breast preservation. This is three times better than the similar statistic for Austria 25 years ago and even exceeds preservation rates seen in the USA. There are currently 23,000 women participating in ABCSG studies which is an astonishing number considering a small country like Austria.
Partnerships between basic research and industry
There are several pioneering research institutes in Austria that combine basic medical research and industrial partnership. One of them is the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA), a basic research institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. There, an international team of scientists conducts primary research to study molecular mechanisms of biological processes and to address questions in modern life sciences and biomedicine.
In addition, Boehringer Ingelheim is pioneering innovative approaches to cancer therapy in Austria alongside its research powerhouse, the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) and industrial biotech partners. These collaborations support Boehringer Ingelheim’s team of 240 scientists in Vienna, enabling the company to be a key player in cancer research. The IMP, in particular, is a world-renowned research facility generating high impact peer-reviewed research and attracting top scientists to focus on cellular growth regulation and the complex biological processes underlying disease.
The CeMM Research Centre for Molecular Medicine is a flagship research institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences which is pursuing a new medical focus. Driven by medical needs, CeMM integrates basic research and clinical expertise to pursue innovative diagnostic and therapeutic approaches focused on cancer, inflammation and immune disorders.
The Children’s Cancer Research Institute (CCRI) is nationally and internationally renowned for its multi-disciplinary approach to decoding pathogenesis mechanisms and for improving diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of cancers in children and adolescents.
Cutting-edge diagnostic and screening technologies
As with all cancers, early screening and diagnosis are vital for selecting an optimal treatment regime. Add to that companion diagnostics that can help detect patients who are likely to benefit from a treatment and it is easy to see that cutting-edge diagnostic and screening technologies for cancers can therefore really save lives! Austria has long been an engine of innovation in cancer diagnostics.
Finding a way to tell which patients will benefit from a treatment and which will not, i.e. “personalised medicine”, is an important goal worldwide and a key driver behind the research of a consortium of scientists at Oncotyrol.
The efforts of the consortium are being further strengthened through its collaboration with the newly established Austrian Drug Screening Institute (ASDI) where expertise is applied to both basic and translational research, with the aim of tailoring therapies to treat tumour patients.
Furthermore, the department for Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at the FH-IMC University of Applied Science Krems is very well recognised in the identification of predictive biomarkers and personalised medicine, carrying out state-of-the-art research in 3-dimensional organotypic tumour modelling, cell-based assays, high throughput screening and biomarker identification.
New treatment approaches
In the last 50 years, cancer therapy has advanced considerably, but there is still much work to be done in order to find treatments that can improve quality of life and outcomes with minimal side effects.
Vaccines and immunotherapeutics
Vaccines and immunotherapeutic approaches are an important means to combat cancer and to stop the spread of the disease within the body. APEIRON Biologics is an Austrian company developing innovative immunotherapeutics, signing, amongst others, an agreement with Merck KGaA on the rights to develop and commercialise a novel biological treatment for neuroblastoma and other cancers (currently in phase II trials).
Both Activartis Biotech, a spin-off from the CCRI, and CELLMED Research with its spin-out LifeResearch Technologies, are specialists in tumour-immunotherapy and are developing therapeutic cancer vaccines for unmet cancer needs. The approach is based on the use of antigen-presenting IL-12 dendritic cells which help the immune system to recognise and destroy tumour cells. Activartis, a subsidiary of AOP Orphan, is a specialist in cancer immune therapy. The company has developed a proprietary cancer vaccine technology, Trivax, patented in 2002. The technology utilises antigen-presenting IL-12 secreting dendritic cells which instruct the immune system to recognise and destroy tumour cells. Activartis’ Trivax technology is currently part of a randomised clinical phase II efficacy trial with about 90 metastatic brain cancer patients.
CELLMED Research, founded in 2006, is an Austrian Life Science Company focused on research and development of cellular therapies, in particular on the manufacturing and clinical application of cellular immunotherapy for the treatment of solid tumours. A clinical study in phase I / IIa on the safety of PROCURE® for the treatment of ovarian cancer is under way.
Other treatment approaches
While vaccines and other immunotherapeutic methods are important, there need to be treatment options for patients with more advanced stages of the disease. New or modified anti-cancer molecules with improved potency and efficacy as well as reduced side effects and toxicity are being discovered and developed by companies like Tube Pharmaceuticals who are cultivating powerful anti-cancer drugs called cytolysins. This new class of natural substances has demonstrated outstanding potency against dividing cells, including cancer cells in initial proof-of-concept studies.
MedAustron is one of the most advanced centres for ion beam therapy and research in Europe and is based in Wiener Neustadt. The irradiation therapy will be performed with carbon ions or protons. The centre is currently under construction and technical test operating will start in 2013 with the first treatments carried out by 2015. In the full operational phase up to 1,400 patients per year will benefit from this innovative treatment option.