The major medical challenge in Europe today

Austria is at the forefront in the fight against cancer in Europe and plays an important part with several pioneering initiatives. A small country like Austria with short distances and strong networks is in an excellent position to form multidisciplinary teams that are needed to tackle the challenge cancer. Be it innovative immunotherapy, novel molecular targets or gene therapy, researchers and oncologists throughout Austria are working together to develop and commercialise diagnostics and treatments.

Research institutes and networks: Cooperation is vital

Collaboration across multiple disciplines is integral to modern cancer treatment. 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 and the Medical University of Vienna (MUW) seeks to discover mechanisms leading to cancer development and progression.  Austrian Breast & Colorectal Cancer Study Group (ABCSG) performs internationally successful clinical trials in breast and colon cancer. ABCSG’s area of study initially concentrated on breast cancer, before focussing on colorectal cancer. The organisation is now beginning to investigate other forms of cancer. By this time, ABCSG is also conducting studies on liver metastases and pancreatic cancer. More than 26,000 patients worldwide have participated in ABCSG trials since 1984.

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.

In addition, Boehringer Ingelheim is pioneering innovative approaches to cancer therapy in Austria alongside its research powerhouse, the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP). This collaboration enables 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. 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.

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. 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.

Also Austrian start-ups are active to help oncologists to dentify the best treatment options for cancer patients to reduce side effects and improve outcome. Allcyte, a spin-off of the CeMM research institute has developed a platform technology which allows them to test life cell samples and predict how the therapy will perform in a real cancer patient.

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 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. The company developed and commercialised a novel biological treatment for neuroblastoma. Other projects, Apeiron is currently working on, are a number of immune-oncological projects to treat solid tumors.

ViraTherapeutics, a start-up based in Tirol, is developing immunotherapy drugs against cancer. The viruses that ViraTherapeutics have designed destroy cancer cells but harm normal tissue. Currently they are conducting safety and efficacy studies and are planning to start clinical trials soon. The viruses that ViraTherapeutics have designed destroy cancer cells but do not harm normal tissue. Currently they are conducting safety and efficacy studies and are planning to start clinical trials soon. Late in 2018, they were acquired by Boehringer-Ingelheim.

MyeloPro is developing innovative treatments for a group of blood cancers. MyeloPro’s focus lies on the development of an antibody that can block a mutated protein causing these cancers.