Four awards and a research grant were presented at the ceremony at the SOHC 2022 in Basel. They are sponsored by partners in the pharmaceutical industry. The SAKK Awards honor researchers for special achievements in various fields of cancer therapy.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common acute leukemia in adults and has an extremely poor prognosis. Current therapies are unsatisfactory as a large number of patients still experience a relapse, and in some cases do not respond to treatment from the very beginning. Medical science is placing its hopes in innovative immunotherapies such as CAR T cell therapy, which has revolutionized the treatment of other hematological cancers but is still facing major challenges in the treatment of AML.
The acronym CAR stands for the chimeric antigen receptor which, in CAR T cell therapy, is made up of different components of the immune system that do not really belong together, a construction known as a chimera. The CAR is integrated into the T cells, which are an essential part of the body’s immune defences, and attaches to their surface. This enables it to dock onto certain target structures on the cancer cells and bring about their death.
In the prize-winning trial, CAR T cells will be produced with the help of cells from patients known as natural killer T cells. The researchers working with Dr. Federico Simonetta at the University of Geneva expect this to result in a more effective and better-tolerated treatment option for patients with AML.
Seminomas originate in the spermatogonia of the testes. The usual treatment comprising radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy is highly effective, with more than 90 percent of patients relapse-free after three years, but it is associated with a substantial risk of side effects, including the development of further cancers, in these young patients. This aspect was the focus of the prize-winning trial undertaken by the group working with Dr. Alexandros Papachristofilou at Basel University Hospital. They investigated an adapted treatment protocol, consisting of carboplatin and radiotherapy in 120 patients, with the aim of achieving the same degree of efficacy with better tolerability. In this trial, which is the largest completed prospective study of seminoma, almost 94 percent of the patients were relapse-free after three years. The treatment investigated in the trial was also considerably better tolerated than the current standard therapy, raising hopes of an improved treatment option.
Cancer patients are at high risk for complications and relapses as a consequence of the cancer and the treatment. It is essential to identify signs of deterioration at an early stage since this improves the patient’s treatment outcome and enables the hospital’s processes to be optimized.
Dr. Ricardo Pereira-Mestre and Lorenzo Ruinelli, MSc from Cantonal Hospital Ticino will develop a computerized tool capable of using patient parameters to predict clinical deterioration in oncological and hematological inpatients. They will elaborate a model based on machine learning (ML), a form of artificial intelligence. The team is building on the positive experience gained by the hospital with an ML-based model for predicting the length of inpatient stays.
A qualitative study in medical oncology at the Triemli city hospital in Zurich has shown that in complex treatment processes with many players, in particular, communication between patients, families and the therapy team is not adequately regulated. The lack of structure leads to duplication and uncertainty for patients and their families and to multiple burdens and resource bottlenecks faced by medical staff. The project that has won the SAKK award is intended to optimize these processes with the aim of improving patient management and quality management and increasing cost efficiency. The first step will be to appoint "Case Managers", whose clearly defined role will be to coordinate between the different players.
SAKK has awarded the Dr. Paul Janssen Fellowship to two projects undertaken by Dr. Luca Afferi in the Department of Urology at Cantonal Hospital Lucerne.
The aim of the first project is to develop an informative decision-making model to evaluate the benefit of two treatment options for muscle-invasive bladder cancer. When treating this cancer, physicians must decide between neoadjuvant (NAC) and adjuvant (ACT) chemotherapy. The first is a supportive treatment given prior to surgery, the second is given after surgery. Preference is usually given to ACT to avoid delaying surgical intervention. However, it is difficult to predict which of the two treatment strategies provides the greatest benefit to patients. The aim is to make this decision on the basis of the expected benefit and risks of the two options, the associated costs and the years of life gained. It is a difficult decision which, it is hoped, will be made easier by the model developed in the study.
The second project is a randomized clinical trial in patients with non-metastatic prostate cancer and lymph-node involvement. It will investigate the use of intensified hormone therapy after surgical removal of the prostate. The current decision on whether to use adjuvant treatment in this situation is based on outdated trials and retrospective data, the value of which is limited by several errors such as selection bias and informative censorship. The challenge here is to understand whether patients with node-positive prostate cancer can benefit from intensified hormone therapy after surgical removal of the prostate.
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SAKK is the biggest competence center for clinical cancer research in Switzerland. The not-for-profit organization was established as an association in 1965. As a competence center, the objective of SAKK is to network its members, research cancer therapies, refine existing treatments and improve the chances of a cure for cancer patients. This is achieved through cooperation within Switzerland and with partners in other countries. Researching physicians are helped to develop and conduct multicenter and interdisciplinary trials independently of the pharmaceutical industry. The members of SAKK are the clinical oncology centers at university, cantonal and private hospitals. They work with other hospitals and physicians, and together form the SAKK network.