Queen’s University Belfast leads €6m European study to combat bowel cancer

Has the potential to develop new approaches to treat colorectal and metastic cancer

Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) is leading a European study to find new treatments for bowel cancer.

The MErCuRIC research project, worth €6m, involves 13 partners in eight European countries, who will look at two major genetic factors that make bowel cancer difficult to treat.

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the second major cause of cancer mortality. It is the third most common cause of cancer in Europe, with more than 200,000 deaths each year. Currently over 50% of colorectal cancer patients develop an aggressive form of the disease, which spreads quickly and does not respond to standard therapy. Patients’ survival more than five years after diagnosis of this form of cancer is less than 5%.

The new research, which takes place under a recently established European Consortium (MErCuRIC), led by QUB and funded by the European Commission’s Framework VII Programme, will build on recent studies which have increased the understanding of what goes wrong in the colorectal cancer cell.

The new study is aiming to develop new diagnostics and therapies through a programme of research which will include a translational clinical trial of more than 1,000 people and involving a number of SME and industrial partners including Pfizer.

Dr Sandra van Schaeybroeck, Co-Ordinator of the Research Programme from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at QUB, said: 'Our research has identified two key genes that are contributing to the aggressive spread of colorectal cancer. The research being carried out by MErCuRIC will allow us to bring this research to the next level by developing and conducting a clinical trial that targets the products of these two genes in patients with metastic or aggressive colorectal cancer.'

The pan European clinical trial component of the research is being led by the University of Oxford. The University's Professor Tim Maughan, who has led a number of key clinical trials programmes in colorectal cancer, said: 'This is an important study which has the potential to develop new approaches to treat patients who have what is essentially an incurable disease.'

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