Meet the first winner of a new award for cancer research

cancer child

(Credit; Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Belén Garijo, Chief Executive Officer, Healthcare; Member of the Executive Board, Merck

  • The Johann Anton Merck award celebrates the best new scientific research in oncology and autoimmunity.
  • Its inaugural winner is Professor Caroline Dive of the University of Manchester.
  • Her work on liquid biopsies is making testing simpler, as well as more accessible and repeatable, and can help to detect cancers earlier.

Cancer is pervasive and does not discriminate. It was responsible for 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths worldwide in 2018, and these numbers are expected to nearly double by 2040. These predictions are frightening, and it will take all of our best efforts as a unified research and development community to change this current upward trend.

Over the past decade, we have uncovered salient insights into cancer research and healthcare, and intensified the integration of research and clinical practice. One of the currently most promising areas poised to transform the field of cancer is immuno-oncology. The strategy of positioning our own body as an active participant in the fight against cancer is brilliant. We have an extraordinary chance to lift the burden of cancer patients, their families and care takers.

Although we’re seeing spectacular results with certain immuno-oncology approaches – for example, with checkpoint inhibitors (proteins that disrupt the ability of cancer cells to hide from our immune system) and CAR T-cell therapy (chimeric antigen receptor T cells which are engineered to recognize a patient’s cancer cells) – the sad reality is that not nearly enough patients are reaping the benefits.

Inspiring curiosity and collaboration

Every single patient has a unique genetic version of his or her cancer and we’ve quickly learned that it is essential to understand this unique cancer signature and how it affects the response to therapy. What drives molecular changes, what is the cause of a weak response to therapy in some patients and how can we shorten the time it takes to bring a drug to the market? Understanding the biological underpinnings of cancer and the interactions between cancer cells and our immune system are urgently important if we want to dampen the increase in cancer prevalence.

It’s no different for the business aspect of drug development. In order to create breakthroughs in healthcare, we must look deep into our portfolio and understand the decisions and choices we are making. Over the past decade, we have diligently strengthened our research and development, and in particular, our clinical development approach, by focusing on talent and expertise. We have increased our investment in technology and education as these go hand-in-hand with innovation, without which we simply won’t meet our goals.

More importantly, we recognize that we need more research diversity. We cannot do this alone and that it’s going to take much more than the pharmaceutical industry to reach a cancer-free world. Our partnerships and collaborations, such as our partnership with the World Economic Forum, benefit the patient community and our healthcare systems. Sharing knowledge and resources smartly leads to faster, effective and more personalized treatments for more patients, and to relieving the burden of disease globally.

The Johann Anton Merck Award

This year, I’m honoured to announce the very first Johann Anton Merck Award for outstanding scientific preclinical research in the areas of oncology and autoimmunity.

Johann Anton Merck (1756-1805) was a fifth-generation pharmacist, whose love of the natural world was reflected in his research, which he conducted throughout his life alongside the pharmacy. He was a meticulous note-taker, recording formulations and variations of old formulations, as well as dosage and effects. He ventured into compound medicines, which, at the time, required advanced knowledge of chemistry, as well as the courage to use what was considered innovative and contemporary medicine-making techniques and equipment. In addition to being well-traveled and highly educated, Johann Anton retained and expanded the family’s professional networks. Johann Anton’s attitude of curiosity and innovation paved the way for his son, Heinrich Emanuel Merck, to successfully establish what has now become the modern Merck pharmaceutical company.

It is this spirit of curiosity, passion for innovation and understanding of the importance of collaboration that guided us in the selection of an external scientist for this prestigious award: Caroline Dive, PhD, Professor of Cancer Pharmacology at the University of Manchester.

Initially trained as a pharmacist, Caroline completed her PhD in clinical oncology. She has special expertise in circulating tumor cells (CTC), circulating DNA/RNA and tissue-based biomarkers for clinical application. Caroline’s group specializes in small cell lung cancer and CTC-derived preclinical models that faithfully mimic this cancer in humans. In pursuit of her goal to develop a non-invasive test for detecting, monitoring and assessing the disease and treatment in cancer patients, Caroline started looking at our blood.

Liquid biopsy

A liquid biopsy is a blood sample from a patient, in which we can detect biomarkers such as circulating tumour cells (cells released by a tumour that are often precursors of metastases) or cell-free tumour DNA (DNA shed from dying tumour cells). A liquid biopsy makes testing more readily accessible and repeatable, as it can be done with a simple blood draw and allows the analysis of tumours in hard-to-reach areas. The amounts and levels of biomarkers are indicators of the emergence and progression of cancer, as well as the cancer’s response to treatment.

Breakthrough in diagnostics and monitoring

Caroline has pioneered the development of liquid biopsy methods. Her discoveries help detect cancer at an earlier stage and are applied to monitor therapeutic efficacy. Her work is an example of how we, by collaborating across institutes and countries, by fostering the next generation of talent and by integrating technology into our research, can tip the scales in our favor and look forward to a cancer-free world.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

This entrepreneur is helping farmers get food to consumers during lockdown

Switzerland has the most highly skilled workers in the world. This is why

These are the countries best prepared for health emergencies

The essence of care is cosmopolitan

Call to revitalize ‘language of the ancestors’ for survival of future generations: Indigenous chief

Mental Health: Role of the individual for their well-being in the pandemic

‘Fire-fighting approach’ to humanitarian aid ‘not sustainable’: Deputy UN chief

Black babies more likely to survive when cared for by Black doctors, suggests new study

EU Commission spends billions without achieving targets

“The Arctic climate matters: to what degree?”, a Sting Exclusive co-authored by UN Environment’s Jan Dusik and Slava Fetisov

EU-Vietnam free trade deal gets green light in trade committee

Here are five things to know about the future of being human

UN health agency spotlights stalled effort to close health divide across Europe, in new report

IMF v Germany: Eurogroup keeps the fight under control

European Junior Enterprise Network – Ready to take the Step Into the Future?

Here’s what I learned at Davos 2020

Yesterday’s “jokes” and sarcasm by Digital Single Market’s Vice President Ansip on EU member states’ right to protect their telco markets

We need to talk about integration after migration. Here are four ways we can improve it

UN human rights chief fears world has grown numb to Syrian carnage

Health is nothing but the main consequence of climate change

Financial abuse of elderly ‘rampant, but invisible’, says UN expert

Europe should make voice ‘more heard’ in today’s ‘dangerous world,’ says UN chief

Reducing disaster risk is a good investment, and ‘the right thing to do’, says Guterres

5 priorities for leaders in the new reality of COVID-19

How the United States can win back its manufacturing mojo

From low-earth orbit, ‘envoys’ of humanity join UN space forum

iSting: Change Europe with your Writing

Council Presidency: Floundering with the EU 2014 budget

This wall of shoes is for the women killed by domestic violence

Workplace risks: Final vote on protection from carcinogens, including diesel fumes

Copyright: MEPs update rules for the digital age

UN chief calls for ‘united front’ against anti-Semitism after US synagogue mass-shooting

Eurogroup asked to reduce public debts of its member states

Top UN political official updates Security Council on Iran nuclear deal

I created a class to teach zero waste. It turned into so much more

Superbugs: MEPs advocate further measures to curb use of antimicrobials

‘Amid stormy global seas, UN charter remains our moral anchor’, says Guterres on United Nations Day

ECB’s €1.14 trillion again unifies Eurozone; Germany approves sovereign debt risks to be pooled

Grexit no longer a threat but how to manage a “tutti frutti” government if not with fear?

‘Our goal is to democratize the air.’ How aerial transportation will shape cities of the future

Service and Sacrifice: For Ghana, UN peacekeeping is a ‘noble opportunity to serve humanity’

Israeli security forces’ response to Gaza protests ‘a recipe for more bloodshed’, says UN expert

Environmental Implementation Review: Commission helps Member States to better apply EU environment rules to protect citizens and enhance their quality of life

Yemen ceasefire deal: ‘Potential’ now to restore humanitarian lifeline to millions

AI can wreak havoc if left unchecked by humans

Celebrating Gaston Ramon – the vet who discovered vaccinology’s secret weapon

2 trillion drinks containers are made every year – so where do they go?

E-cigarettes are killing us softly with their vapor

Business is a crucial partner in solving the mental health challenge

The Ultimate Career Choice: General Practice Specialist

State aid: Commission approves German scheme for very high capacity broadband networks in Bavaria

These airports are now opening their doors to non-fliers

AI looks set to disrupt the established world order. Here’s how

Why do thousands of migrants need to be drowned for Brussels to wake up?

EU-US resume trade negotiations under the spell of NSA surveillance

There are 3 barriers blocking good menstrual hygiene for all women. Here’s how we overcome them

Denmark’s last circus elephants are retiring – here’s what might take their place

Tax havens cost governments $200 billion a year. It’s time to change the way global tax works

This AI can predict your personality just by looking at your eyes

Here’s how we reboot digital trade for the 21st century

More Stings?


Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s