IBBL to support a European project on squamous cell carcinoma

SCCs are among the most frequent solid cancers in humans, representing a major cause of death worldwide. They can originate from various locations in the body, such as the head and neck, cervix, lung, anus, vagina and penis. Despite sharing similar molecular features, SCCs present a high degree of cellular heterogeneity and drug resistance mechanisms, with many patients not responding to treatment. Therapeutic approaches based on a combination of different drugs are therefore urgently needed.

In this context, the PEVOdata project aims to evaluate an innovative treatment strategy relying on the combination of immunotherapy – specifically Pembrolizumab – and of Vorinostat, an ‘epidrug’ acting on the epigenetic modifications of genes, i.e. modifications that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence. To this end, patients from several centers in France and Italy will be included in the PEVOSQ ‘basket trial’ to evaluate the antitumor activity of the Pembrolizumab-Vorinostat combination in subjects with late stage SCC of the head and neck, cervix, lung, anus, vulva and penis. Clinical, genetic and molecular data will be collected in order to better understand the mechanisms of response or resistance to this combination, and integrative molecular analyses will be performed on samples collected during patient treatment and follow-up. The integration of biological and clinical data will therefore seek to improve data collection and management methods and will allow the development of algorithms to facilitate the inclusion of patients in appropriate clinical trials. The ultimate aim of the project is therefore to develop a decision-support tool for physicians, helping them decide when to suggest a trial and whether the patient is eligible for one or more clinical trials, thus optimising patient outcomes.

Namely, IBBL will be tasked with all aspects related to sample logistics, storage and redistribution, as well as sample processing (including circulating cell free DNA extraction, PBMC isolation, DNA and RNA extraction, creation of tissue slides, tissue staining and analyses such as DNA HLA genotyping).

“Based on the encouraging data from several early-phase studies, we envisage the combination of Pembrolizumab and Vorinostat to be effective in treating patients with advanced SCCs, particularly those with recurrent SCC who do not respond to standard treatment. The project could therefore provide an alternative for these individuals and considerably improve their chances of survival”, explains Dr. Fay Betsou, Chief Scientific Officer at IBBL.

PEVOdata is a 3-year project with a total budget of EUR 2.6 million, of which EUR 1.6 million is financed under the ERA Net ERA PerMed initiative. The project consortium is led by the Institut Curie (France) and includes IBBL (Luxembourg), Leipzig University (Germany), Unicancer (France), Istituto Europeo di Oncologia (Italy) and Oncompass Medicine (Hungary).