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Oncode Accelerator Kick Off Event

On September 8th, Oncode Accelerator gathered over 120 stakeholders to celebrate the official start of its activities. The ambitions are high: ‘Oncode Accelerator is an exemplary project for future public-private collaborations in the coming years’.

About 120 stakeholders attended the Oncode Accelerator kick-off in The Hague. Experts from all corners of the oncology field were present – scientists, policy makers, government agents, and industry experts. It was the perfect mix of stakeholders needed to make Oncode Accelerator a success in the next ten years. As Erwin Nijsse, Director-General for Enterprise and Innovation at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, stressed during the meeting: ‘We need a united “TeamNL” effort in the field of oncology research, aiming for speed, ambition, and the removal of barriers in cancer drug development.’

Most cancer drugs never reach the market

‘The stakes are high. Only one in three patients currently benefits from cancer therapies’, Friso Smit – co-executive director of the Oncode Accelerator Foundation, explained in his opening talk. In the following speech, Cecile Geuijen, Chief Scientific Officer at Merus, added that 97% of oncology drugs fail to progress through the approval phase. ‘It is crucial to understand the factors behind a drug’s success, which are conditional on indication and drug class, for example, but also should be placed into a historical perspective’, she said.

These are the challenges that Oncode Accelerator will address in the coming years. The program emerged from three initiatives and now gathers over 30 partners, including six coordinating partners. ‘If I would describe Oncode Accelerator in one sentence, I would say: Oncode Accelerator brings patients into the lab’, Friso Smit said. Oncode Accelerator’s approach is based on the implementation of three innovative platform technologies in therapy development: well-defined patient cohorts, organoids, and artificial intelligence. This work is overseen by a central organization – the Oncode Accelerator Foundation.

Benefits for the Dutch economy

Erwin Nijsse from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy addressed the National Growth Fund and its support for Oncode Accelerator. ‘Oncode Accelerator exemplifies a focus on impact, national collaboration, and economic revitalization’, he said. He also mentioned the program’s potential to leverage Dutch expertise for the benefit of the economy, creating new companies, spin-offs, and societal benefits. ‘Oncode Accelerator is an exemplary project for future public-private collaborations in the coming years.’

During a concluding panel discussion, Tale Sliedrecht – co-executive director of the Oncode Accelerator Foundation, shed light on the relationship between Oncode Accelerator and Oncode Institute, as one of the initiators of the Oncode Accelerator program. ‘While they are separate initiatives, they operate within the same ecosystem and share a common goal: outsmarting cancer, impacting lives’, he explained. Oncode Institute focuses on groundbreaking discoveries in oncology, translating them into new biomarkers, technologies, and treatments, whereas Oncode Accelerator takes over with promising research ready to be turned into clinically relevant candidates.

A united commitment

In a collective vision for the future, the panelists expressed their hopes for societal, economic and scientific impact of Oncode Accelerator. Tale Sliedrecht (Oncode Accelerator Foundation) looks forward to making a tangible impact on patients’ lives, emphasizing the validation of their work on a global scale. Mario van der Stelt (Leiden University), Oncode Institute investigator and leading the workstream on Small Molecules, expressed his optimism about the development of effective compounds and therapies. Marieke de Bruin (Utrecht University), Regulatory Innovation platform leader, hopes for progress beyond the preclinical phase. Geraldine Vink (UMC Utrecht), program manager Patient Cohorts platform, wishes for more patients to receive effective treatments through patient cohorts and adaptive clinical trials. And Sipko Mülder (representing the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport) envisioned reduced reliance on animal models, increased access to treatments, and lower costs, leading to more affordable medications for patients.

In the end, the panelists were united in their commitment to innovation and patient-centered care and in their shared vision to make a meaningful impact on cancer patients’ lives. Cecile Geuijen summarized it best: ‘I believe Oncode Accelerator has the potential to grow into a valuable ecosystem, bringing together essential knowledge, assays, patient cohorts, AI, and organoid models. It all aligns with patients’ needs, aiming to improve the chances of effective cancer treatment and ultimately – patient outcomes.’

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