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A comprehensive approach to cancer

Seoul National University’s preclinical research is rapidly translated into clinical trials, particularly in the field of therapeutic resistance.

Close ties between basic and clinical researchers at Seoul National University (SNU) drives its world-class cancer research.

Seoul National University Cancer Research Institute (SNU CRI) director, Professor Seock-Ah Im, heads a translational oncology team working to understand the mechanisms of carcinogenesis using cancer models generated from patient-derived bio-specimens. Her team identifies targets for proof-of-concept clinical trials, deciphers therapeutic resistance, examines bio-molecular imaging, and investigates tumour microenvironments, including tumour immunity.

SNU CRI research teams are exploring anti-tumour effects and the mechanisms of new targeted agents through preclinical partnerships with pharmaceutical companies. These projects are focused on epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 inhibitors, anaplastic lymphoma kinase inhibitors, and poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors, as well as tumour immune-modulating agents and CAR-T cells.

By investigating specific genetic changes — including fusion, mutation and amplification — oncologists at SNU are also identifying predictive biomarkers for specific cancers or targeted agents to aid clinical drug development.

Korean Cell Line Bank (L−R) colorectal, pancreatic and breast cancer organoids.

SNU CRI’s multidisciplinary research teams use cancer models generated from patient-derived bio-specimens provided by the Korean Cell Line Bank (KCLB). Based at SNU-CRI, the bank hosts more than 1,000 fresh archived cancer tissues, 1,600 normal or cancer cell lines, and 400 living cancer organoids.

Cancer patient derived bio-specimens are also used for target identification, functional genomics research, drug screening, and for identifying the molecular mechanisms of targeted agents, leading to proof-of-concept clinical trials at the Seoul National University Hospital Clinical Trial Center (SNUH CTC).

Clustered together, SNU College of Medicine, SNU Hospital, SNU Cancer Hospital, SNU Genome Medicine Institute, SNU CRI and SNUH CTC are a hub for cancer research. “Our goal is to become a leading research-oriented medical college based on fundamental basic science, cutting-edge clinical research, and multidisciplinary biomedical collaboration,” explains Professor Chan Soo Shin, dean of SNU College of Medicine, Korea’s oldest national medical school. Its historical counterpart, SNU Hospital, which has its roots in Korea’s first large modern hospital ‘Jejungwon’, was founded in 1885.

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Information feedback between basic and clinical researchers is made easier due to their proximity, says Im. For example, when the SNU CRI team come across a patient that shows resistance to a specific targeted agent, they can send a sample to the KCLB to make a resistant cell line. The cell line can be used to explore the mechanism, and find a way to overcome the resistance, using preclinical models. For promising strategies, collaborations with pharmaceutical companies then develop new biomarker-driven clinical trials, says Im. “We actively participate in early phase, first-in-human, biomarker-driven and multimodality clinical trials to find strategies for patients who have not responded to standard treatments.”