High-performance Oncological Medicine Made in Germany

Setting a new standard in clinical cancer research - that is the goal of Bavarian researchers within the WERA alliance. As of today, the alliance is part of the National Centre for Tumour Diseases (NCT).

On 24 November, they signed the federal-state administrative agreement on the NCT expansion: Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, Baden-Württemberg’s Science Minister Petra Olschowski and representatives of the ministries from Bavaria, Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony in Heidelberg. The National Centre for Tumour Diseases (NCT) has thus gained four new sites nationwide ÜBerlin, SouthWest (Tübingen/Stuttgart-Ulm), WERA (Würzburg with the partners Erlangen, Regensburg and Augsburg) and West (Essen/Cologne). Together with the existing sites in Heidelberg and Dresden, a total of six NCT sites are now cooperating with the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) and University Medicine. The aim is to sustainably advance state-of-the-art clinical cancer research in Germany and thereby improve the treatment results and quality of life of cancer patients.

WERA partners cover a care area of around eight million people

"The establishment of the NCT heralds a new era for translational cancer research in Germany as a centre of science," comments Prof. Hermann Einsele, Spokesperson of the National Centre for Tumour Diseases NCT WERA and Director of the Medical Clinic and Polyclinic II at the University Hospital of Würzburg. "We are very happy and also a little proud that we are now part of the expanded NCT," says Prof Wolfgang Herr, Deputy Spokesperson of the NCT WERA and Director of the Department of Internal Medicine III at Regensburg University Hospital.

The NCT WERA will make it possible to offer the latest procedures in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the northern Bavarian region in particular. The four WERA partners cover a service area of around eight million people. "Thanks to the NCT funding, all cancer patients, including those from predominantly rural areas, have the best possible access to state-of-the-art oncological diagnostic and therapeutic procedures as well as innovative clinical trials at the WERA sites," Herr continues.

Young researchers are given protected space for research

According to Hermann Einsele, the NCT also represents a great opportunity for young researchers to translate findings from basic sciences and preclinical research into clinical practice: "Junior research will be significantly expanded with many new positions for research-oriented colleagues and new career options. Finally, the NCT will enable ’protected time’ to bring study ideas or research projects from young doctors into the clinic."

Bringing the latest findings into clinical trials quickly and comprehensively

During the panel discussion, which took place shortly before the signing of the federal-state agreement, private lecturer Dr Sophia Danhof from the University Hospital of Würzburg emphasised the importance of promoting young researchers as well as translation: "Where in the past excellent preclinical research did not reach clinical application, or only insufficiently so, the NCT is now joining forces to ensure that cancer patients benefit from the latest scientific findings as quickly and comprehensively as possible in clinical trials. In this way, the NCT is boosting the translation of cutting-edge German research into high-performance oncological medicine ’made in Germany’," says the internist and research group leader at the Chair of Cellular Immunotherapy.

Specifically, the NCT WERA will further strengthen the development of new cancer drugs and personalised medicine tailored to the individual patient. Priorities will include the further expansion of innovative immunotherapies ("CAR-T cells") and the development of new molecular therapeutics.

Patient representation promotes understanding of patient-centred research

"Being an active part of the NCT as a WERA network with the Würzburg, Erlangen, Regensburg and Augsburg sites enables the targeted funding of jointly developed translational projects with a focus on investigator-initiated studies, i.e. studies initiated by university science without commercial interest, for the first time," says Prof. Nina Ditsch, Head of the Breast Centre at Augsburg University Hospital and member of the NCT WERA Board of Directors. "In addition, close networking with patient representatives from a wide range of tumour entities is intended in particular to promote early collaboration with scientists and thus an understanding of patient-oriented research."

Drawing on the excellent network of the CCC Alliance WERA

Prof. Marianne Pavel, also a member of the NCT WERA Board of Directors and Head of the Endocrinology Department at the University Hospital Erlangen, emphasises the excellent networking of the WERA alliance. "The structures of the CCC WERA that have been established over the last few years make a significant contribution to realising the joint goals of the NCT and CCC." The "Comprehensive Cancer Center Alliance WERA", which has been awarded the title of "Oncological Centre of Excellence" by German Cancer Aid, already joined forces in 2019. Even before joining the NCT, more than 10,000 patients with all types of tumour diseases were newly included in joint clinical trials in the CCC Alliance WERA every year.

Prof Ralf Bargou, Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC Mainfranken), spokesperson of the CCC WERA and member of the NCT WERA Board of Directors sums up: "The signing of the federal-state administrative agreement for the NCT expansion is another important milestone for the joint work in the WERA Alliance. And it also recognises the many years of development work behind these joint structures. The upcoming projects will now provide further impetus to improve the care of people with tumour diseases in the WERA region. This is precisely the aim of university research and characterises our joint work."

By Kirstin Linkamp



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