Despite significant breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of malignant diseases, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Research has led to an unprecedented understanding of the molecular underpinning of cancer, leading to an explosion of targeted therapy options - personalized immunotherapy, genome editing and rational drug design are just a few of the novel ideas that will massively change how we target cancer therapeutically. However, there are numerous challenges that need to be overcome before delivering on the promise of personalized cancer therapy. In particular, the challenge of therapy resistance is enormous.
Anti-cancer drug resistance is the major cause of death of cancer patients with disseminated tumors. Clinical evidence shows that, despite initial response to treatment, drug-resistant cancer cells frequently evolve, and eventually most tumors become resistant to all available therapies.
In recognition of this challenge we propose to establish the International PhD Program in Translational Oncology (IPPTO) as a center of training and research excellence within the PhD thesis program “Malignant Diseases” (» MADI of the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni Vienna). Through the "Cancer Research/Oncology" research cluster and the “Comprehensive Cancer Center”, MedUni Vienna has created a collaborative environment to support scientists and clinicians in their pursuit to reduce the burden of cancer. In the past 10 years, the MADI program has become the largest and best established PhD program at the MedUniWien, with the highest number of currently enrolled students and graduates. We selected the top scientists of MADI program, who will join forces to develop a new research focus on therapy resistant cancer.
The extraordinary complexity of the resistance mechanisms represents a challenge that no single laboratory can conquer. The collaborative research training program is based on the strong research relationship and the complementary skills of the participating faculty members. By sharing the technology and the know-how across the platform, we will strive to achieve the critical mass of collective expertise needed to match the scope of the research problem. However, it cannot be expected that a single drug resistance mechanism will be dominant in predicting poor treatment outcome. We have therefore identified three focus research areas that we consider of paramount importance for understanding drug responses and tumor resistance.
Thus, the proposed PhD projects will focus on (1) cellular mechanisms, (2) tumor cell plasticity and (3) the tumor microenvironment, to better understand mechanisms shaping anticancer therapy responses, design strategies to better stratify patients and to identify potential strategies that delay or impair drug resistance.