The ECRFM allocates €1.3 million to Cancer Research

by Marianna de’ Micheli

Friday July 24th 2020 has been definitely a day to remember for the Maltese cancer research field. Nearly 1.3 million grant was offered by the Emanuele Cancer Research Foundation Malta, to fund two research projects to be performed in a cutting-edge laboratory that has just been installed in University of Malta.

Her Excellency Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, President Emeritus of Malta and Chair of the ECRFM opened the press conference held at University of Malta: “I would like to welcome you to this important moment in the history of cancer research in Malta, whereby the possibilities to enhance this important activity at the University of Malta, through Maltese Researchers and their International Collaborators, will increase, as of today, by another nearly 1.3 million euros.

One of the projects, led by Prof. Josianne Vassallo and Dr David Saliba, focuses on mapping the immune landscape to assess immunotherapy strategies to treat pituitary neuroendocrine tumours. The pituitary is often referred to as the body’s master gland since it releases hormones in the bloodstream that regulate important functions such as metabolism, growth and reproduction. Pituitary tumours are common and can occur in up to 20% of people in Malta, with 18 to 20 patients undergoing complex surgery each year.

The other project, coordinated by Prof. Godfrey Grech, will utilise innovative methods to classify colorectal cancer patients into groups of clinical relevance and to optimise sensitive and precise tests to predict early metastatic disease. It is expected to provide a better understanding of the different subtypes of colorectal cancer, explore new insights to explain the mechanisms involved in the progression of the disease and study the efficacy of specific therapeutics on cellular models that originate from the different types of cancers identified in the study.

Prof. Emmanuele F.M. Emanuele, Chair of Fondazione Terzo Pilastro Internazionale and ECRFM’s vice President, said: “I am delighted to announce the start of these important research projects promoted by the Emanuele Cancer Research Foundation of Malta, which are being funded through a massive donation, unmatched in Malta to date.  These two state-of- the -art projects, led by teams who excel in this field, represent another significant step taken by the ECRFM towards its goal to defeat this terrible disease, which obviously concerns not only Malta and the Mediterranean region but affect the fields of prevention and cure all over the world.”

The ECRFM is the result of a partnership between the Malta Trust Foundation, the University of Malta and Fondazione Terzo Pilastro Internazionale, which has allocated a total of 2.5 million to these projects and the laboratories.

“Prof. Emmanuele Emanuele, is one of the greatest Italian Philanthropist of all times and has dedicated and is still dedicating his energies and financial resources to Italian Cancer Research and philanthropy – highlighted Her Excellency Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, who warmly thanked the Chairman for his extraordinary generosity – He is also a believer of cultural and transcultural development.”

The ECRFM’s Call, published last winter was highly welcomed at the University, as the Foundation has received 10 extremely worthy applications to choose from.

In selecting the two winning teams, the ECRFM established an International Reviewing Board, composed of experts in the field from some of the Research Institutes with which the Foundation has signed a MOU:

  • MEBIC Inter-University Consortium (Medical and Experimental Bio Imaging Centre in Rome;
  • The Sharett Institute of Oncology in Israel;
  • The Department of Biological, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technologies of the University of Palermo;
  • The Shanghai Dongfang Hospital in China.

The Rector Alfred J. Vella said the University hoped the research teams succeeded in collaborating together to establish a core group with the necessary critical mass to be able to take part not only in other calls launched by the Foundation, but also European and International calls for proposals. “It was a great pleasure to see such a considerable number of applications for the Foundation’s first call.  We hope these teams will produce excellent scientific results.”

“In the near future – added Her Excellency – we will be announcing another call for cancer research projects.  Although all applications were eligible, I must wistfully say that the nearly 1.3 m euros were taken up by only two projects. I hope we will soon have the opportunity to make room for more projects in the important field of clinical research.”