Nanomedicine in Cancer Therapy


RWTH professor Twan Lammers receives funding from the European Research Council and explores venues for commercial implementation

Two men in a lab Peter Winandy Professor Twan Lammers (right) and his Nanomedicine and Theranostics group investigate new approaches to tumor treatment. Pictured left is research assistant Xiangyang Bai.

If a potentially very potent drug turns out to be unsuccessful for some test subjects in a clinical trial, it will not be applied in tumor therapies. Professor Twan Lammers, head of RWTH’s Nanomedicine and Theranostics Group, is working on a solution to adress this problem: he seeks to identify patients who are suitable for the drug before the decisive test trials take place. For his research project, titled “Picelles – Penetration-Promoting and Imageable Polymeric Micelles as a Platform: Technology for Individualized and Improved Tumor-targeted Drug Delivery,” he has now been awarded Proof of Concept funding from the European Research Council (ERC).

In 2012, Lammers already received an ERC Starting Grant for his “Neoadjuvant Nanomedicines for Vascular Normalization” research project. In 2015, he was awarded an ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) grant for his project on “Companion Nanodiagnostics for Quantifying EPR and Stratifying Patients to Targeted Nanotherapies,” CONQUEST for short. Lammers is the only RWTH scientist who has managed to receive two Proof of Concept awards from the European Research Council. Only seven such grants were awarded to researchers at German universities in the current funding period.

“Tumor-Targeted Drug Delivery“ Research Training Group

Twan Lammers’ key research area is the use of nanomedicines in cancer therapies. In collaboration with Professor Fabian Kieling, he succeeded in establishing a DFG research training group concerned with tumor-targeted drug delivery, which seeks to make tumor treatments more efficient. As part of his first PoC project, he investigated technologies for imaging a biological effect, the so-called EPR effect, which is predictive for a cancer patient's response to tumor-targeted nanomedicine therapy. In his current research, the focus is placed on a particular particle, the Micelle.

Patients who do not respond to targeted micelle therapy should not be selected as test subjects in clinical trials. Furthermore, the project assesses the tumor penetration ability of the nanoparticles under investigation: with the help of so-called penetration promoting peptides, the micelles are to penetrate tumors and metastases more deeply to better reach the targeted tumor cells. As Lammers explains, “We believe that patient preselection requires more reliable biomarkers and that these are to be integrated in the development of nanoagents. This would help to clearly improve therapies and prolong survival. “

The ERC Proof of Concept grants are to further promote ideas developed in ERC-funded projects that require further steps on the way towards practical application. The provided funding may be used to analyze patentability, to file a patent, to create a business plan, or to conduct market research. Lammers now thinks about establishing a company with the help of the VIP+ or Exist programs offered by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, seeking to provide new opportunities in tumor treatment.