Resources are needed to quicken the path from laboratory to treatment so that as many patients as possible benefit from new drugs: the continuous development of drug screening means that an effective combination of existing drugs can be found more frequently for individual cancer patients. An annual investment of €1 million enables the creation of a system guaranteeing that each tumour biopsy undergoes drug hypersensitivity testing before the patient’s treatment decision.
Investments also boost patients’ opportunities to participate in clinical drug trials. At the moment, only about one in ten patients participate in such trials, but the aim is for the latest cancer drugs to be available to one in three patients by 2025. Clinical trials provide valuable information on the individual responses of patients to new drugs.
University of Helsinki cancer researchers and a cooperative network aim to raise a total of €120 million in research and innovation funding. The Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa and the HUCH Comprehensive Cancer Centre currently spend some €100 million a year in cancer research.
Our researchers concentrate, for example, on how to inhibit the growth of blood vessels in cancer cells: without blood vessels, tumours cannot grow. Nanomedicine also opens up new opportunities for targeted and precise drug delivery, fundamentally reducing the adverse effects of treatment on the healthy cells in the body.
Another line of research involves the analysis of large masses of data; this is the focus of the work performed by Academy Professor Lauri Aaltonen’s team, which aims to produce new knowledge about the role of the genome in cancer by studying unique Finnish patient groups, such as families with a history of cancer and patients predisposed to cancer due to shared environmental factors. Investments in computational research methods and the analysis of large data masses enable the reliable investigation of drugs with samples of just dozens or a hundred patients rather than thousands of individuals.
Of key importance for cancer research at the moment is the harnessing of the patient’s own immune defence system for treatment. Strengthening the patient’s own immune response allows the immune system to more effectively target cancer cells.
Although tumours may look the same, they are actually very different. Personalised medicine plays a key role in the treatment of cancer. The University of Helsinki is home to world-leading cancer researchers: Academy Professors Kari Alitalo and Lauri Aaltonen, as well as dozens of other professors and researchers are involved in cancer-related research, teaching and care at the University and in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa. Pioneering initiatives also include the research on cancer immunology undertaken by Professor Satu Mustjoki and her team.
The university and hospital campus in the Meilahti district of Helsinki is one of the largest hubs of medical research, teaching and treatment in Europe. The purpose of the close cooperation between the University and the University Hospital as well as the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa is to speed up the transition from the latest research to treatment beneficial for patients. The HUCH Comprehensive Cancer Centre annually treats approximately 25,000 patients.
Detailed genomic data about Finns, a population register stretching back to 17th-century church records, investments in multidisciplinary research, new biobanks and expertise in computational methods based on the latest information technology – these are just some of the factors that make the University of Helsinki an exceptional research environment and platform for finding novel solutions to cure cancer.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have developed a cancer vaccine, which is currently undergoing trials, discovered new genome data on DNA molecules, modelled increasingly personalised therapies through the study of leukaemia and merged masses of data to develop better drug combinations.
They also aim to develop Finnish databases into world-leading solutions in cancer research with the help of efficient computational methods for analysing data. Researchers are exploring the genetic factors underlying susceptibility to cancer in order to transition molecular-level research results to clinical treatment more effectively and rapidly. Many of the mechanisms of cancer and the metabolism of cancer cells are already known. Researchers will be close to finding a universal cure to cancer once they are able to inhibit the metabolism of cancer cells with a single drug.