The committee recommends allocating the entire amount, of which 161 million euros will be awarded directly and a conditional award of 164 million euros. With this investment, Oncode-PACT will develop valuable drug candidates faster and cheaper and thus bring them to patients sooner. This will improve the quality of life of cancer patients while strengthening the future economic earning capacity of the Netherlands.
The development of a medicine takes on average 10 to 15 years, from the first scientific insights obtained in the laboratory, to the moment that patients can have access to it. However, it is a common occurrence that a drug candidate is not effective enough, or it does not reach the right patient for other reasons during this lengthy process. Low success rates due to often late failures in drug development come at the price of high investments that ultimately do not lead to new drugs for patients. The current development process of anti-cancer drugs is therefore expensive, takes too long, and usually works only for a subset of the intended target patients. Oncode-PACT aims to provide solutions to these problems.
Patients in the lab
Oncode-PACT has the ambition to develop new demonstrably effective cancer drugs faster and more cost-effectively. The medical need is urgent, because cancer remains the number one cause of death in our country. Alain Kummer, Managing Director Oncode Institute and Chairman of Oncode-PACT, explains: 'Oncode-PACT places the patient at the center of the entire drug development chain. In the current situation, the preclinical development process is still insufficiently connected with the clinical practice, and we focus on the patient too late in the drug development process. By deploying patient data and tissues from patients early in the development process – for example organoid technology and artificial intelligence – it is possible to assess whether a potential drug could be effective and safe much earlier in the process than is currently possible, and with greater certainty. In addition, animal testing can be decreased with this new approach.'
This way, Oncode-PACT brings the patient into the lab. This reduces the chance that drug candidates drop out during late-stage clinical studies. With the approach envisioned by Oncode-PACT, it will be clearer before the start of clinical research, in which patient group the greatest effectiveness can be expected and under which circumstances. This makes it possible to approach the important phase of clinical research in a more targeted and faster way.
Significant market potential for anti-cancer drugs
Kummer continues: 'Global sales of innovative cancer drugs and contract research for drug development present enormous economic opportunities for the Netherlands. Dutch knowledge institutions and (SME) companies will have access to the expertise and facilities offered by Oncode-PACT and will be able to go through the preclinical development process faster and more effectively. This way, Oncode-PACT will create new business, knowledge and technology in drug development and contract research, strengthen the business climate for foreign companies and develop affordable cancer treatments.'
Impact on patients
The way of working within Oncode-PACT ensures that patients receive more viable treatments as early as possible. Thanks to this new way of drug development, it will be possible in the future to offer tailor-made treatment at a much earlier stage of a patient’s disease and make a difference that way.
Dr. Sebastiaan van Heesch, group leader in the Princess Máxima Center for pediatric oncology, is co-lead of the Therapeutic Vaccines project within Oncode-PACT. He says:
‘The Oncode-PACT is a huge boost to the development of immunotherapies for cancer – for both children and adults. With vaccines, cell therapy and other forms of immunotherapy, we’re expanding the future arsenal of cancer treatments. It’s great to see that as a country we are committed to working together to accelerate the development of these promising therapies.’
Prof. dr. Alexander Eggermont, scientific director of the Princess Máxima Center for pediatric oncology, says:
‘At the Princess Máxima Center, we’re making important advances in the field of new, better treatments for childhood cancer. With the support of the National Growth Fund for Oncode-PACT, we can take real steps to improve efficiency in drug development in the Netherlands – so we can offer children with cancer access to the treatments of the future as quickly as possible.’