The Brain Tumour Charity grants WINDOW Consortium £1.5 million for new research into combination therapies to treat brain cancer

The Dutch/British consortium will study glioblastoma

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Christaras A
MRI of person with a glioblastoma

The Dutch/British WINDOW Consortium has been awarded a grant of £1.5 million (€1.75 million) by the Brain Tumour Charity (UK) for research into Glioblastoma.

This unique collaboration will establish an international scientific network to generate more effective combination therapies against this deadly cancer, which has so far proved intransigent to any treatment. WINDOW will test many drug combinations to target different cells within each individual patient’s tumour. By experimentally testing up to 100 combinations of drugs which already have clinical approval, WINDOW aims to accelerate the development of new treatments for Glioblastoma.

“This grant from the Brain Tumour Charity enables our international team to mount a direct attack on this deadly disease.”

Research leader Bart Westerman from VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam

Glioblastoma is the most common and malignant form of brain cancer. Each year, around 3,200 patients are diagnosed with this disease in the UK and the Netherlands. Despite improving knowledge of its genetic causes, it remains stubbornly incurable, with current treatment schedules resulting in an average survival of 12 months from diagnosis. Part of the poor prognosis is due to tumour heterogeneity: different parts of the tumour have different characteristics and will respond differently to therapy. As a result, a particular treatment may kill some of the tumour cells, while others cells continue to grow.

The researchers within the Consortium now aim to provide a solution to this problem by examining the links between intra-tumour molecular heterogeneity and combinatorial drug efficacy. Glioblastoma cells from individual patients will be established in the laboratory of Colin Watts at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of Cambridge University Hospitals. These will then be passed to Bart Westerman and Tom Würdinger at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam for experimental testing of up to 100 combinations of drugs to identify drug-combinations with broad clinical applicability, while maintaining specificity for cellular subtypes. Drug combinations that are effective in cell culture will subsequently also be tested in animal models in Amsterdam.

Data showing most promise for glioblastoma treatment will be assembled, annotated and distributed worldwide as a Glioblastoma Drug Bank by IOTA Pharmaceuticals, led by David Bailey and Fredrik Svensson in Cambridge. In further studies, Emmanouil Metzakopian’s team from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (UK) will use new CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to identify new molecular targets, contributing to drug resistance in the same patient-derived tumour cells.

The creation of such an integrated approach for effective treatment is expected to accelerate the development of new combination therapies and to seed development of new molecular approaches to treat glioblastoma.

“Our strategy will combat this cancer from a cellular point of view. Novel drug therapies coming from specialties such as immuno-oncology will further complement the WINDOW approach.”

Research leader Bart Westerman from VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam

More information

Further information

The acronym “WINDOW” stands for ‘Window for Improvement for Newly Diagnosed patients by Overcoming disease Worsening’.

Further information on WINDOW is available through its website at!Synapse:syn10002875/wiki/441884, which will be used as an open access portal for sharing data and methods.


The WINDOW consortium consists of teams led by the Dutch Researchers Bart Westerman and Tom Würdinger (VUmc Cancer Centre Amsterdam/Brain Tumour Centre Amsterdam) and the Cambridge, UK, researchers Colin Watts (Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge University Hospitals), Emmanouil Metzakopian (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) and David Bailey and Fredrik Svensson (IOTA Pharmaceuticals Ltd).

Selected websites

  • VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam/ Cancer Centre Amsterdam/ Brain Tumour Centre Amsterdam

    VU University Medical Centre (VUmc) is the university hospital affiliated with the VU University Amsterdam. The VUmc Cancer Centre Amsterdam (CCA) is a national and international leading centre for cancer research and treatment. At the CCA, 26 disciplines and 500 researchers cooperate to prevent, cure and diagnose cancer. The Brain tumor centre Amsterdam has been recognised by the EU as a centre of expertise and participates in the European reference network for central nervous system tumours.

  • Cambridge University Hospitals

    Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) is one of the largest and best known hospitals in the UK. As well as delivering care through Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie, it is also: (1) a leading national centre for specialist treatment for rare or complex conditions, (2) a government-designated biomedical research centre, (3) one of only five academic health science centres in the UK, (4) a university teaching hospital with a worldwide reputation, and (5) a partner in the development of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. CUH works in partnership with the University of Cambridge to carry out biomedical research.

  • The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world’s leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease.

  • IOTA Pharmaceuticals Ltd

    IOTA Pharmaceuticals Ltd is a specialist drug discovery and development company based in Cambridge (UK). IOTA works in partnership with leading academic and pharmaceutical company scientists to accelerate drug discovery and drug development projects. IOTA’s role within the WINDOW Consortium is to design new drugs for Glioblastoma using the data generated by the scientific teams, and to collate and disseminate the findings of the WINDOW project as widely as possible, thereby promoting the global development of new drugs and drug combinations for this aggressive and intransigent cancer.