04.12.2015 - 17:00

FIMM participates in a €6 Million EU-funded research project on ovarian cancer


An international collaboration project to study drug resistance in ovarian cancer has received 6 million euros for five years from the EU Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program. The project is coordinated from the University of Helsinki, Finland, and begins on January 1, 2016. Two FIMM-EMBL group leaders, Krister Wennerberg and Tero Aittokallio, are responsible for a work package on sub-clonal level drug response profiling and modeling.

The HERCULES project focuses on the most common and most difficult to treat subtype of ovarian cancer, high-grade serous ovarian cancer. These tumors consist of several heterogeneous cell populations with a large number of mutations. This genetic variability of the tumors makes it difficult to find drugs that would be able to kill all the cancer cells and to which some of the cells would not become resistant during treatment. 

Although most patients respond well to current treatments initially, more than half of them experience relapse. In Europe more than 40 000 women die of ovarian cancer every year.

In the HERCULES project, the tumors are analyzed in an unprecedented level of detail to discover which cell populations the tumors consist of, how they respond to treatments and what makes them resistant to treatments.

Patient samples are used to study the function of genes and proteins at a single-cell level by using the latest mass cytometry, sequencing and computational methods. The researchers aim to find an optimal set of biomarkers that can be used to identify different cell populations from tissue samples. Fresh tissue samples and cell lines will be used to study the tumor cells’ response to several drug compounds, using the high-throughput drug sensitivity and resistance testing (DSRT) platform housed and further developed at FIMM.

The results from these experiments will be used in mathematical drug response modelling and development of computational tools to predict effective drug compounds that target each detected cell population. Based on this information, the aim is to develop a biomarker panel that can be used to predict which treatment combinations will be most efficient against an individual patient’s cancer.

– Combining comprehensive drug response profiling with computational modelling will provide a unique view of the impact of cancer clonal heterogeneity on therapeutic outcomes. Mathematical modelling can help to identify multi-target combination regimens for the therapeutic targeting of the disease-driving sub-clones, commented FIMM-EMBL group leader Tero Aittokallio.

The results of the project will help doctors in finding the best treatments to each ovarian cancer patient.

In addition to coordinating the project, University of Helsinki researchers are responsible for sample sequencing, data analysis, development of computational tools, single-cell sequencing and drug response experiments. Other partners in Finland are from the University of Turku and the Hospital District of South-West Finland. They are in charge of recruiting patients, collecting and processing the samples and establishing cell lines.

Additional information:


Tiia Pelkonen, Project manager
+358 50 3199520

Sampsa Hautaniemi, Project coordinator
+358 50 336 4765


Project partners

University of Helsinki, Finland
- Sampsa Hautaniemi
- Anna Vähärautio
- Tero Aittokallio
- Krister Wennerberg

Hospital District of South-West Finland
- Seija Grénman

University of Turku, Finland
- Olli Carpén

University of Trieste, Italy
- Giorgio Stanta

Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy
- Mauro Biffoni
- Luca Pasquini

Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
- Jussi Taipale

Institute Pasteur, France
- Benno Schwikowski

Ab Analitica SRL, Italy
- Dino Paladin



Last updated: 04.12.2015 - 17:06