Dr Max PIFFOUX (Center Léon Bérard, Lyon)
Doctor Max PIFFOUX - under the responsibility of the "Apoptosis and cancer" team coordinated by Aurélie DUTOUR at the CLB - is the scientific manager of the following research project: "Autophagic induction as a booster of response to immunotherapies: trial of a new therapeutic class, calorie restriction mimetics, in the pediatric osteosarcoma model ". Eva pour la vie & Aidons Marina have decided to co-finance the launch of this project, by providing a grant of 40,000 euros.
Dr Max Piffoux, you are both a medical student and a post-doctoral researcher at INSERM at INSERM in Lyon. You have decided to focus your research on osteosarcomas in children. Can you tell us more about this project, and your motivations for working on childhood cancer? Was it difficult to convince your team?
First of all, I want to clarify that I am not alone in leading this project, it is a team story! The origin of the project is above all a story of meetings, of shared enthusiasm, like many research stories. We have developed this project to confirm the interest of a new type of molecules to potentiate the effect of immunotherapies. They have the advantage of not having any side effects a priori, of being easy to administer by mouth. They have not yet been developed by drug manufacturers, but if this were the case they could quickly end up in clinical trials. At the start of this project, we were looking for a cancer model resistant to immunotherapy to confirm results obtained in other sarcomas. Among the cancers resistant to immunotherapy, osteosarcomas are particularly resistant, and affect a predominantly pediatric population. I was also made aware of the subject by my partner, a resident in pediatric orthopedic surgery and co-sponsor of the project. We are also working with a Parisian team specializing in this type of molecules. This made me understand that this pathology was particularly relevant from a scientific but also a medical point of view: resistance to immunotherapies, few therapeutic avenues, no change in care for 30 years ... unfortunately it is an area where there is still work to be done, a real challenge. I hope we can add a stone to the edifice.
What is the current therapeutic situation, and what are your hopes?
In osteosarcoma, treatment is currently based on surgery and chemotherapy. It is a very cumbersome protocol, but it works relatively well for some patients. If unfortunately patients do not respond or relapse, treatment options are very limited. I think that therapeutic innovation in the field will come either from the addition of molecules without side effects to the current treatment, or from new second-line approaches which, if they prove to be effective, could perhaps replace the first line. We see that in the second case the road is long. Instead, we chose to focus on the first option: developing non-toxic treatments in combination with the current treatment. We know that our "drug candidates" have shown their efficacy in another type of sarcoma resistant to immunotherapies, making it sensitive to immunotherapies when combined with chemotherapies, in particular those used for osteosarcomas. Our goal, if the results are promising in animals, is to set up a trial to test these molecules directly on the front line. However, we know that it takes a long time for a new treatment to arrive in a clinical trial, especially for these pathologies with few patients.
Do you plan to develop this project with other researchers and extend it to other types of pediatric cancers?
Of course ! More generally, we target cancers resistant to immunotherapy, including certain pediatric ones such as Ewing's sarcoma or neuroblastoma. The project is already made up of a team of researchers, but the door is intended to remain open.
Did you encounter any financial or administrative difficulties in launching this project? What does the financial support of Eva for Life and Aidons Marina allow you to do?
I must admit that since I arrived in Lyon a year and a half ago, I have been welcomed with open arms by the teams of the Center Léon Bérard. From a financial point of view, everything went well because the support of Eva for life and Aidons Marina was very quick to obtain! I think we underestimate the role of this kind of preliminary funding for young researchers, who spend their time looking for money at the expense of time spent doing research ... This will allow us, if the results are conclusive, to find funding to take this project further.
In addition to collecting donations, Eva pour la vie has launched a fundamental initiative aimed at encouraging the State to create a fund dedicated to research on childhood cancer, as well as to improve aid to families of children. sick children. A first victory, undoubtedly insufficient but unprecedented, was obtained at the end of 2018: the vote of a fund of 5 million euros / year for this research. What do you think ?
I think research in general needs support. The share of French GDP devoted to research, both public and private, is low compared to other comparable countries. Seen from inside the public system, researchers are paid to spend about 25 to 50% of their time looking for money to work. The creation of this fund is a great step forward!
What would you like to say to families whose children are battling cancer?
This is a more than difficult question! Wish them courage of course, but also thank them for their help. The research is unfortunately relatively slow, we put all our heart into it. Quick financial support like the one you give allows new avenues of research to emerge quickly.