ChromaCure: seeking a treatment for aggressive tumours

August 23rd 2018

Melanoma, pancreas cancer, lung cancer… these forms of cancer are aggressive and invasive, and known for progressing especially quickly. While a number of new treatments have been developed in the past few years (immunotherapy, targeted therapies, etc.), they are not effective in all patients. For most people who are diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, prospects remain dire. Finding new treatments is still, therefore, a crucial challenge.

A gene for aggressivity

Professor Cédric Blanpain heads the ULB laboratory that studies stem cells and cancer. Ten years ago, his team identified a gene that is abundantly expressed in the cells of aggressive tumours. ‘This gene is not at all expressed in benign tumours; it is only present in aggressive ones,’ explains Blanpain. We've been investigating this for the past five years, because this gene is essential to the tumour's development. When it is removed, the tumour virtually evaporates!

Looking for inhibitors

The question, then, is what molecule or family of molecules could inhibit the aggressive gene. This is why spin-off ChromaCure was officially created in 2018 by Prof. Blanpain: its mission is to conduct cellular tests on thousands of small molecules, in order to find a good inhibitor. He feels confident: ‘With our understanding of how the gene works, we believe that this inhibitor will work differently from immunotherapy and chemotherapy. Depending on the case, it could be administered on its own as a monotherapy, or combined with other treatments.

A treatment by 2024?

With 17 million euros recently raised from investors, ChromaCure can already begin its molecule screening campaign. ‘Our ambition is to find a molecule that is both effective and harmless to humans,’ explains Dr Jalal Vakili, the new CEO of ChromaCure. ‘In concrete terms, we intend to have identified a new molecule in time to start phase 1 clinical trials by 2024.’ This could bring new hope to patients suffering from aggressive forms of cancer.

(1) Before they can be considered for release on the market, all new drugs must go through three phases of clinical trials.