For patients

As the prognosis of head and neck cancers, due to the risk of recurrences of the primary cancer remains disappointing, the development of new anti-cancer agents is urgently awaited (1). The MiRacle project will aim to bring a new therapy for head and neck cancers to clinical trial stage.

This project focuses on developing new treatments for tumours with a poor prognosis, those that are not caused by human papillomavirus infection. In recent years, the treatment of head and neck cancers has shifted from surgery with radiotherapy to chemoradiation with salvage surgery when indicated, depending on stage and subsite of the tumour.

Also in cases that are primarily treated with surgery and postoperative radiotherapy, the addition of chemotherapy is used with increasing frequency. In addition, new EGFR-based targeted therapies are being used together with radiotherapy (bioradiation), especially in patients who are unfit to receive chemotherapy (1).

The five year-survival rate for patients with early stage disease is over 90%. Unfortunately the majority of patients only start treatment when disease is already in an advanced stage. These patients frequently develop locoregional recurrences, distant metastasis and/or second primary tumours resulting in 5-years survival rates of less than 60% (1).

The MiRacle project will develop a drug, which is ready for clinical testing. The discovery of miRNAs has given new hope for accomplishing this task.

Supported by solid evidence for a critical role in cancer and reinforced by a unique mechanism of action, miRNAs are predicted to result in a new class of targeted therapeutics. In contrast to current cancer medicines, miRNA-based therapies function by subtle suppression of gene expression on a large number of oncogenic factors and are, therefore, anticipated to be highly effective (2).

Translating fundamental science or applied science findings into a real therapy that can be brought to patients is often a major hurdle. The goal of MiRacle is to advance a therapeutic tumor-killing miRNA formulation towards the clinic by combining two innovative technologies:

  1. a tumour-lethal therapeutic miRNA
  2. and head and neck tumor specific targeted drug delivery.

This will result in a functioning drug, which is safe to take to the next step, clinical testing, which is the step prior to bringing it to the market.

References

  1. Leemans et al. Nat Rev Cancer 2011
  2. Boder 2011