Milestone for state-of-the-art, comprehensive care for cancer patients

Federal and state governments to fund the establishment of the NCT site in Berlin from 2024

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Berlin, 24 November 2023

Novel treatments and a close link between clinical and translational cancer research – this is what the National Center for Tumour Diseases (NCT) Berlin stands for as a major extension of the Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Center is supported through the co-operation of three outstanding institutions: Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH) and Max Delbrück Center together with the German Cancer Research Center, the NCT Berlin is one of six sites of the National Centre for Tumour Diseases throughout Germany.

At the new site, the Berlin research activities on single cell analysis, immunotherapies, data science and Patient-Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) will be further intensified and early clinical studies for the benefit of patients will be initiated.

The therapies of the future are being conceived, produced and applied in Berlin. Some of them are already in use: immunotherapies or highly complex gene and cell therapies that intervene in the molecular processes of cancer cells, alter them in a targeted manner and, ideally, cure patients in the long term. Technologies and therapies that are still in their infancy – but they already harbour great hopes.

For example, researchers can use single-cell technologies to examine tumour tissue or blood from patients in high resolution.

Among other things, researchers can see which genes the individual cells are reading at a certain point in the disease and can identify suitable therapeutic targets.

The diseased cells serve as a proxy, an avatar of the patient’s disease – a potential effect of medication can be tested without unnecessary side effects.

The researchers use artificial intelligence to analyse the huge amounts of data generated. Their aim is to predict how the disease will progress and whether a tumour will respond to a particular therapy. The result is a treatment tailored to the cellular characteristics of the individual disease. This is also known as precision oncology.

Three proven partners at the NCT site in Berlin

This concept of cell-based medicine requires close interaction between clinical medicine, basic science – molecular biology, cell biology, biochemistry and biophysics – and the possibilities of mathematics, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Another prerequisite is clinically relevant, innovative manufacturing processes for the use of cellular therapies.

This is precisely what single-cell researchers, tumour immunologists, bioinformaticians and physicians are already working on in Berlin.

At the new NCT site, these focal points are now being continued – in the transfer of novel cell therapies for cancer into clinical practice.

The Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine, which is part of the Helmholtz Association, is driving forward technology development that is closely interlinked with the clinic.

The BIH is expanding its focus on single-cell technologies as well as gene and cell therapies. And Charité, Europe’s largest university hospital, is contributing to comprehensive, interdisciplinary care for cancer patients with its Comprehensive Cancer Center on the basis of its clinical and scientific expertise in innovative, personalised cancer diagnostics and therapy.

Collaborative partnerships at the NCT Berlin make it possible to further develop highly innovative technologies through to medical application.

Findings from clinical research in turn flow into the improvement of treatment concepts. This creates fascinating perspectives for cancer medicine, especially when it comes to questions such as: Do tumour cells respond to treatment? or How can resistance mechanisms be overcome?

For state-of-the-art, personalised cancer care in the region

Every year, more than 510,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Germany.

The catchment area of the NCT Berlin covers around one tenth of the population of 8.6 million people in Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt.

The federal-state agreement on the expanded NCT signed today (24.11.2023)  in Heidelberg is a milestone in the development of highly innovative cancer care, and not just for the Berlin site.

Institutional funding will begin in 2024; after the start-up phase, each new NCT site will be financed with up to 14.5 million euros annually by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the respective federal state in a ratio of 90 to 10.

Crucial for the Berlin site is the Senate’s support in financing a new NCT building at the Charité Campus Virchow-Klinikum, which will house state-of-the-art laboratories, an outpatient clinic for personalised cancer medicine and an information centre for cancer patients.

Established training opportunities such as the BIH Charité Clinician Scientist Programme, which provides an entry into a clinical-scientific career, are available to attract young talent in cancer research to Berlin.

Dr Ina Czyborra, Berlin Senator for Science, Health and Care and Chair of the Charité Supervisory Board, stressed the importance of the NCT site for the healthcare city:

“With the establishment of the Berlin NCT site, an important project from the coalition agreement for the further development of science and research in the state of Berlin is being implemented and Berlin as a research and healthcare location is taking another step forward.”

Prof Heyo K. Kroemer, Chairman of the Board of Charité, emphasised the unique opportunity of the NCT Berlin for all those involved:

“Combining cancer research and cancer treatment under one roof is the overarching goal of all departments of university medicine. Doctors, scientists and, above all, patients in Berlin and the surrounding area will benefit from this.”

Prof. Ulrich Keilholz, Director of the Charité Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCCC) and Co-Speaker of the NCT Berlin together with Charité Professor Angelika Eggert: says that:

 “The new centre will become an important player in the fight against cancer in the Berlin and Brandenburg region and far beyond. Every patient at the CCCC will receive a personalised treatment plan developed by an interdisciplinary team. In addition, we enable innovative diagnostics and participation in clinical trials at the NCT. We are proud to give this development significantly more momentum at the NCT Berlin and thank you for your support along the way.”

Prof. Nikolaus Rajewsky, Scientific Director of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC-BIMSB) stresses that:

“The more precisely we understand the cells of a tumour, the more specifically we can combat it. We therefore want to bring pioneering technologies such as spatial single-cell biology into everyday clinical practice. The Berlin partners have already laid the foundation in 2020 with four jointly recruited junior research groups. At the NCT Berlin, we are intensifying this collaboration – for the benefit of cancer patients.”

Prof. Christof von Kalle, BIH Chair of Clinical Translational Sciences and Director of the Clinical Study Center:

 “After the great success of the initial phase, the NCT expansion to six sites as part of the National Decade Against Cancer is not only a great opportunity for Berlin and the participating institutions Charité, Max Delbrück Center and BIH, but also a very important next step for the development of patient-relevant cancer research and therapy both nationally and internationally.”

The National Centre for Tumour Diseases (NCT)

The NCT is a long-term cooperation between the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ), excellent partners in university medicine and other outstanding research partners at various locations in Germany: Berlin, Dresden, Heidelberg, SouthWest (Tübingen/Stuttgart-Ulm), WERA (Würzburg with the partners Erlangen, Regensburg and Augsburg) and West (Essen/Cologne). The expansion of the NCT to six sites was promoted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the National Decade Against Cancer and supported by the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony following an international review. The aim of the NCT is to promote clinical-translational research topics in seamless cooperation with the existing Comprehensive Cancer Centres so that innovations in cancer research become available to patients more quickly and safely in clinical trials in order to better treat or cure tumour diseases in the long term while maintaining a high quality of life. The focus here is on patients, who are also actively involved as research partners in the NCT’s planning and structures so that they have rapid access to new clinical trials and innovative therapeutic approaches.

Image: Access to novel cancer therapies in clinical trials and the active involvement of patients in treatment and research – this is what the NCT Berlin stands for. Charité | Janine Oswald