Spain's Catalan government has approved a collaborative effort on cancer research with New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

The regional government is set to provide $34 million over four years to fund a new program on metastasis research at the Barcelona-based Institut de Recerca Biomèdica (IRB). The program will focus on translational research on metastasis and involve up to eight research teams, including one led by Catalan Joan Massagué, chairman of Sloan-Kettering's Cancer Biology & Genetics Program.

“If we intend to establish a program coordinated between Barcelona and New York, then the standards of quality and productivity must be similar,” says Massagué, who has been an advisor of the IRB for the past few years.

Massagué's lab at Sloan-Kettering studies the role of the TGF-beta signaling pathway in cell regulation and disease and, more recently, the mechanisms for tissue-specific metastasis. At his lab in New York, he coordinates an international program with 250 researchers and an annual budget of $30 million.

“Massagué's work on metastasis represents a fantastic opportunity to bring together cancer researchers nationwide,” says Francisco Real, an oncology researcher at Barcelona's Municipal Institute of Medical Research. But the government should also promote other, more low-profile projects, Real adds. “This kind of actions of the government to try to respond to the project of a high-profile Spanish researcher rather than the existence of a long-term scientific effort is deplorable.”

Spain has unsuccessfully tried to lure Massagué several times. In October 2004, when Massagué was being honored for winning the highest scientific award in Spain, he said research in Spain is “underdeveloped” and that the work he was undertaking at New York would be “unthinkable” in his native country.

Barcelona's Hospital Vall d'Hebrón will provide the new IRB program with 3,500 tumor samples to help researchers identify clinical and genetic markers for metastasis. This might help oncologists predict which tumors are most likely to metastatize and when, thereby anticipating both prevention and treatment.