COMPASS: The guide to new therapies for children with cancer

The COMPASS project aims to identify new ways of treating childhood cancers
© Adobe Stock / Tobias Machhaus

Through a targeted combination of drug screening, molecular and microscopy-based techniques, researchers aim to identify new treatment approaches for children with cancer. The Hopp Children's Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ), a joint institution of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital (UKHD) coordinates the project, which is funded by the European consortium ERA PerMed with 1.5 million euros. The COMPASS consortium involves scientific institutions from France, the Netherlands, Finland and Hungary in addition to the KiTZ.

When standard therapies fail in the treatment of children with cancer, molecular procedures can lead the way to new, targeted drugs. But what if they alone do not deliver the hoped-for key to treatment success? "Then we apply drug screening and high-throughput microscopy techniques to investigate whether the tumor tissue is responsive to a library of clinically approved drugs, adding a valuable dimension to diagnostics," said Olaf Witt, COMPASS-coordinator, head of the Division of Pediatric Oncology at the DKFZ and director of the Translational Program at the KiTZ . "Combining the functional image-based drug response data with the information obtained through molecular analyzes, we obtain more accurate evidence of promising therapeutic approaches in incurable childhood cancer."

This forms the approach of the new project COMPASS (Clinical implementation Of Multidimensional PhenotypicAl drug SenSitivities in paediatric precision oncology), which is funded by the European consortium ERA PerMed with 1.5 million euros over a period of three years. ERA PerMed is an association focused on the promotion of personalized medicine projects, with 32 partners from over 23 countries. It is co-funded by the European Commission.

"The goal is to build an international, standardized and validated platform for drug testing based on image analysis and accompanying molecular analysis that characterizes and classifies different types of tumors for their response to different drugs," said KiTZ staff member Sina Oppermann, Scientific Coordinator of the COMPASS project. "In the long run, the data will be translated into clinical trials at the KiTZ, so that affected children benefit as quickly as possible from the findings."

COMPASS joins forces of several European pediatric precision oncology platforms including INFORM, Mappyacts and iTHER. In addition to the DKFZ/KiTZ with its European pediatric precision oncology platform "INFORM", five other scientific institutions are partners in the COMPASS project: the Institute Curie (Paris, France), Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology (Utrecht, The Netherlands), Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam (AMC) (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and University of Helsinki (Finland) and the startup company Single-Cell Technologies Inc. (Szeged, Hungary) providing synergistic expertise in the fields of high content imaging, drug screening, bioinformatics/big data analysis, molecular diagnostics and PDX modelling.

The COMPASS consortium has four main aims: I) establish a standardized ex vivo drug response profiling platform to discover unexpected drug efficacies and drug re-positioning opportunities, II) discover new biomarkers and molecular mechanisms for the drug efficacies seen, III) generate a large-scale online data resource of drug efficacies with integrated omics data providing a basis for novel precision therapies for incurable paediatric tumors and IV) clinical translation

COMPASS-Team KiTZ Heidelberg:
Olaf Witt (PI), Sina Oppermann (scientific coordinator), Heike Peterziel and Ina Oehme

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