Research into combination therapy for patients with complex lung cancer (MUMC+ pressrelease)

Prestigious European grant for development of lung cancer therapy

Professor Philippe Lambin of Maastricht UMC+ and the Maastro Clinic has been awarded a prestigious Advanced Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). Lambin and his team will use the subsidy of approximately 2.5 million euro to conduct research into an innovative method of treating patients with metastatic lung cancer. The new treatment is based on a combination of immunotherapy, stereotactic radiotherapy and a special medication targeting tumour hypoxia. In particular, the new treatment would benefit patients suffering from metastatic lung cancer.

Lung cancer causes more than one-and-a-half million deaths worldwide every year. Approximately eighty percent of the tumours fall into the category of ‘non-small-cell lung carcinoma’. Existing treatments are frequently aimed at slowing the growth of a tumour and are seldom curative. The chance of survival is slim, particularly with metastatic forms of lung cancer. The same applies for so-called hypoxic tumours (tumours containing areas with low oxygen concentrations), which are not susceptible to radiotherapy, immunotherapy or chemotherapy. With the European grant, Philippe Lambin, Professor of Radiation Oncology at Maastricht University, hopes to change the way in which these tumours are treated.

Complex patient
The study will be divided into a number of phases and will build on earlier successes achieved by Lambin’s research team. Using PET scans and the so-called radiomics technique (a concept developed by Lambin), specific patients with metastatic and hypoxic lung tumours can be identified. Patients with this complex form of non-small-cell lung carcinoma can then be considered for treatment with the combination therapy. However, the therapy will first have to undergo intensive pre-clinical and clinical testing in the coming years. Meanwhile, there are already three studies underway in Maastricht to investigate the effectiveness of immunotherapy in combination with radiotherapy.

‘Triple therapy’
There are three parts to the new therapy and it involves a combination of radiotherapy, immunotherapy and a special medication (tri-modal therapy). The treatment works as follows: the radiotherapy destroys cells in the primary tumour in the lungs. The destroyed tumour cells activate the immune system, which can in turn eliminate tumour cells that have spread to the rest of the body. Tumour cells in areas with low concentrations of oxygen show scarcely any response to immunotherapy and radiotherapy, however, which is where the special medication comes in. This medicine, named “Hypoxia Activated prodrug”,  kills off the tumour cells in areas with low oxygen concentrations, without damaging healthy cells.

ERC Advanced Grant
ERC Advanced Grants are subsidies awarded to outstanding scientists who have been an authority in their field of research for some time and will use the grant to finance ambitious and ground-breaking research projects. Philippe Lambin is Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maastricht and has been working for years on the development of treatments that improve the quality of life of cancer patients: “This grant from the European Research Council is a tremendous recognition of our work. It will enable us to go a step further in our efforts to develop a method of treating patients with complex lung cancer for which there is no remedy yet. Combining different therapies to combat metastasised and hypoxic tumours therefore represents an entirely new approach to the treatment of cancer.”

Professor Philippe Lambin is attached to the GROW research institute of Maastricht UMC+/University of Maastricht and a radiation oncologist at the Maastro radiation clinic. The grant was awarded for a project entitled HYPOXIMMUNO. 

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