Precision Oncology Ireland - Researchers at UCD take academic lead on new €12m collaborative project

Posted 27 November, 2019

Dirk Fey, Ad Astra Assistant Professor, UCD School of Medicine, with Professor Walter Kolch, Director Precision Oncology Ireland, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, Professor Orla Feely, VP for Research, Innovation and Impact UCD, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD

Researchers at University College Dublin will head up a new €12million project aimed at developing new personalised treatments for cancer care.

Precision Oncology Ireland is a consortium of five Irish universities, including University College Dublin as the lead academic partner, six Irish cancer research charities, and ten companies.

The collaborative project will use precision, or personalised, medicine using data about a person’s genes, along with additional information on their cancer, to create new diagnostics and therapeutics for better outcome for patients.

The hope is that with this new science, doctors can prescribe the right treatment in a timely fashion, saving the wasted resources and time our current ‘trial and error’ method incurs, while greatly improving response rates.

Announcing the €11.9m project at UCD, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD said it had “the potential to make a real difference to future treatment options available for cancer patients in this country.”

“Precision Oncology Ireland is a significant investment, not only from Government, but also from the charity and industry partners in the programme, which is, without a doubt, a testament to their conviction that this initiative will lead to the development of new cancer treatments.”

The Precision Oncology Ireland initiative is supported by a €5 million Government investment through the Science Foundation Ireland Strategic Partnership Programme, matched by a €6.9 million investment from the charity and industry partners, including OncoMark a molecular diagnostics company headquartered at NovaUCD.

This is the first time that researchers, charities and industry have combined forces in this way.

Cancer survivor and patient advocate Ramon Whelan, said, “I’m delighted to see researchers, charities and industry coming together in Ireland to focus as a group on the problems in cancer treatments. Cancer patients want to become more involved in their own treatment decisions, and more personalised diagnostics and treatments are essential for this to happen.”

Speaking at the launch, the Director of Precision Oncology Ireland, UCD School of Medicine Professor Walter Kolch, who is also Director of Systems Biology Ireland, said: “Precision Oncology Ireland is a vision come true. It unites the top cancer research experts in Ireland, the leading cancer charities, and companies at the cutting edge of diagnostics and drug discovery. We believe that this unique consortium lays out the blueprint for how cancer research and cancer care will look in Ireland in the 21st century.”

“In Precision Oncology Ireland, we will use cutting-edge technologies to generate unique genetic and molecular profiles for each patient’s cancer.

“Our key competitive advantage lies in the innovative computational methods we use to make sense of these profiles and decipher what drives each individual cancer. The results of this programme will be better diagnostics, personalised cancer treatment, and faster drug discovery and development.”

The Deputy Director of the programme, Professor William Gallagher, from the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Director of the UCD Conway Institute said: “We believe that Precision Oncology Ireland will accelerate the development of new diagnostics and therapies for cancer, and allow these advances to reach cancer patients in Ireland earlier. We will also involve patients in this work from the beginning, to ensure that their voice is heard in determining the most relevant research priorities.”

In Ireland, more than 40,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Precision approaches to oncology give hope of improving cancer patients response rates and survival, reducing side-effects from therapy, and shortening hospital stays, balancing out any increased cost to the healthcare system. The National Cancer Strategy (2017-2026) called for the introduction of precision diagnostics and therapeutics into frontline cancer care.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Ireland has unique and world-leading expertise in precision oncology. This transformative research programme will harness that expertise to enable real progress in personalised medicine for cancer patients, allowing us to take a leadership position in this important area of healthcare.”

Professor Kolch added: “A significant proportion of our funding is down to the generosity of the Irish public in donating and fundraising, via the participation of six of the leading cancer charities in Ireland, the first time they have come together to support a programme of this scale. We want to ensure that their hard work delivers results for cancer patients in Ireland.”

Professor Helen Roche, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, is also a Principal Investigator on the Precision Oncology Ireland programme.

By: Staff Writers, UCD University Relations