The research program of the consortium is devoted to the development of genetically informed cancer therapies. The clinical units, from which our fellows will be recruited, and the hosting laboratories were carefully chosen by application of stringent excellence criteria. All partners have a track record in the area of precision oncology and the research program is founded on substantial preliminary data and a long history of collaborative research that is documented by numerous joint high impact publications. Our spectrum ranges from biochemical and cell biological technologies, including pharmaco-genomics screens, next generation sequencing and bioinformatic analyses of cancer specimens to the generation and use of autochthonous mouse models of human cancer as preclinical tools to the use of patient specimens and the initiation and conduction of innovative clinical trials. This holistic approach follows a clearly defined value chain from discovery to functional characterization to clinical validation and allows the identification of potential drug targets in vitro and in patient samples with the subsequent preclinical and clinical validation. We further set up collaborations with partners in industry to pursue the rapid development of candidate molecules for clinical testing in phase I-III trials.
The educational training program of the Else Kröner Forschungskolleg Cologne is devoted to the education of early career physicians with the explicit goal of training physician scientists that are enabled to drive medical innovation through thorough experimentation. The training is centered around a bi-weekly cancer biology and molecular oncology lecture held by international guest lecturers. This lecture series is bolstered by a bi-weekly seminar series held by the individual principal investigators (PIs) of this consortium. The fellows will further receive training in various aspects of translational cancer research, including classes on modern microscopy and FACS, bioinformatics, a FELASA-B class on the handling of laboratory animals, soft skill classes, including grant writing and management skills, as well as GCP classes for clinical trial physicians (Prüfarztkurs, Zertifizierung als Leiter Klinische Prüfung). The goal of this program is the education of physician scientists that have the training to pursue a career in cancer research and modern oncology.
The third declared goal of the Else Kröner Forschungskolleg Cologne is the advancement of clinical patient care. The research and the training program converge on the advancement of modern targeted therapies for cancer patients. Our long-standing goal, from the identification of specific vulnerabilities of cancer cells in the laboratory and the development of small molecule drugs targeting these critical signaling nodes in cooperation with our industry partners to the education of young physician scientists and cancer biologists, is the improvement of cancer therapy.
Overall, our consortium pursues one central objective, namely, to enhance the overall survival of our cancer patients. While patients suffering from certain cancer entities have recently benefitted from the discovery of novel actionable genome alterations, most advanced tumors are still being treated by not-targeted chemo- and/or radiation therapy. However, members of this consortium have made numerous contributions that uncovered basic biological principles of CLL, lung cancer, upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract malignancies (esophagus/stomach), neuroblastoma, melanoma, breast and ovarian cancer. We built a comprehensive preclinical and clinical toolbox to study cancer in a variety of ways, ranging from cells to mice and from human biopsies to actual clinical trials. We thus feel that we are uniquely positioned to make relevant contributions to the field. Through the funding of this consortium, we would be able to not only strengthen the existing collaborative research, but to spark much more dynamics into disease-oriented research programs and to provide a solid infrastructural foundation for active and swiftly conducted translational research. Most importantly, funding of the Else Kröner Forschungskolleg will enable us to recruit and train highly talented physicians to pursue a career as a physician scientist. Building on the clinical and scientific expertise at the University of Cologne, we streamlined our experimental approach to follow a clearly defined value chain ranging from basic discovery to functional characterization to clinical validation. We focus on clinical entities for which Cologne has achieved national and international visibility, namely CLL, lung cancer, upper GI tract malignancies, neuroblastoma, melanoma, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. In these entities, we will conduct detailed in vitro and in vivo identification and molecular profiling of mutation-driven oncogenic signaling cascades. We will explore molecular liabilities associated with these mutations and we will focus on therapy-induced genomic drifts over time.