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05/06/2020 - Press release

Dr. Clara Montagut, awarded a I CRIS Programme of Excellence in Cancer Research

The CRIS Programmes of Excellence have become an international benchmark by running one of the largest and longest annual private calls for cancer research in Europe

Detecting the best research talents and providing these people with financial, structural and stability means advancing in cancer care via translational research projects that improve treatment and diagnosis through innovation with clinical application. This is the ambitious goal of the innovative and cutting-edge I CRIS Research Programmes promoted by CRIS against cancer, which have already received their first awards thanks to a meticulous evaluation and selection process led by a prestigious committee of international experts. Over the next five years, the three winning projects will focus on colorectal cancer (the second-ranked cancer in terms of deaths) prostate cancer (diagnosed in 1.3 million people each year), and immunotherapy, a highly innovative type of treatment that is changing the outlook of many cancers.

"Research is our life and only through research are we going to find a cure for cancer. With the CRIS Research Programmes we want to detect the best research talent and provide these people with financial and work-related peace of mind. We want to discover and support the Nobel Prize winners of tomorrow and these first CRIS Programmes are just the beginning. In the next edition we will double the number of winners, underlining our commitment to research in spite of the current situation we are experiencing",explains Diego Megía, president of CRIS against cancer.

To this end, there are calls for two types of programme. Firstly, the CRIS Programme of Excellence supports researchers with enormous potential in projects capable of transforming the cancer landscape and is an international benchmark in cancer research, becoming one of the largest and longest annual private calls in the European panorama, with funding of 1.25 million euros for each project to be developed in Spain over a 5-year period.

Dr. Clara Montagut, head of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Unit in Medical Oncology at Hospital del Mar, who heads up the clinical and translational research lab for new therapies and biomarkers in colorectal cancer at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), has been selected for her project to improve the treatment of colorectal cancer, the most frequent type in Spain. The other award winner was Dr. David Olmos, from the National Cancer Research Centre (Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas; CNIO), with a programme focusing on metastatic prostate cancer.

Dr. Clara Montagut

Secondly, the CRIS Research Talent Programme aims to promote research doctors. This type of physician is rare in Spain, but vitally important in the development of new cancer therapies. These awards last 5 years and have a budget of 400,000 euros. This year the award went to Dr. Raquel Pérez-López, from the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute. Her research career is focused on improving the imaging techniques used to diagnose and monitor cancer.

These programmes are financed by private funds from CRIS against cancer partners and by companies and foundations that want to support research in a philanthropic way by co-financing the programmes. In this first edition, the Francisco Soria Melguizo Foundation will co-finance Dr. Clara Montagut's Programme of Excellence, and the company CIMD will support Dr. Raquel Pérez-López through the Research Talent Programme.

To guarantee the quality and transparency of the selection process, the State Research Agency took part in evaluating the projects, in addition to an international committee of prestigious scientists comprising Dr. Paul Workman (President of the Institute of Cancer Research, London), Dr Rajesh Chopra (Director of the Division of Therapeutic Oncology at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Royal Marsden Hospital), Dr Veronika Sexl (Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Department of Biomedical Science at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna), Dr Joaquin Martinez (Head of Haemato-oncology at the 12 de Octubre University Hospital, Madrid, and the CNIO Haematology Unit), and Dr Paul S. Mischel (Director of biological tumours at the Ludwig Centre for Cancer Research, San Diego, USA).

"CRIS against cancer finances very promising projects, with great potential. Every bit of help can make a difference in the fight against cancer, which is a very difficult challenge we have ahead of us. Advancing in research is complicated and we need to boost our investigative work in order to accelerate discoveries and beat cancer sooner", emphasises Workman, President of the I CRIS Research Programmes scientific committee. "These programmes will lay the foundations for emerging researchers and future leaders in Spanish cancer research. It is the way to move forward in the right direction, with important and promising researchers in centres of excellence. The level of projects submitted has been very high, the final selection process has been very thorough and we are convinced of the high impact they will have", he explains.

Thanks to the CRIS Programme of Excellence, endowed with 1.25 million euros over 5 years, Clara Montagut will be responsible for work on improving the treatment of colorectal cancer, the most frequent type in Spain. When patients develop metastasis, one of the usual treatments they receive is a type of drug called anti-EGFR. "However, not all patients respond, and even those who do invariably stop responding eventually as they develop resistance", explains Montagut. Her aim is to study how this resistance is generated and how a patient's immune system reacts, as well as to explore new therapeutic strategies to overcome this. Funding from the CRIS Excellence Programme "offers the possibility of taking a major step forward in our research to improve the treatment and survival of colorectal cancer patients", asserts Clara Montagut.

Currently, the call for candidates for the II CRIS Research Programmes is open, until June 15th as an exceptional extension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will add new programmes, doubling the number of award winners in order to promote and drive forward breakthroughs against this disease. In total, the 2020 call for proposals will provide 4.5 million euros for cancer research.

About the CRIS Foundation against cancer

The CRIS Foundation against Cancer is an independent non-profit organisation set up 9 years ago, dedicated exclusively to promoting and developing research to end cancer. It currently funds 13 research projects into adult and paediatric cancer in Spain, France and the United Kingdom. It also runs important calls to boost the careers of brilliant researchers in centres of excellence, with a programme of grants for training researchers in internationally prestigious institutes, and it recently launched the CRIS COVID and Cancer Research Fund (www.criscancer.org/covid19) to finance three extraordinary projects related to the two diseases, increasing its commitment to the pandemic without neglecting its main focus on cancer research.

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