Preventing Basal Cell Carcinoma formation by targeting the tumor environment

Grantee: Associate Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani, University of Queensland, Australia

Amount: AUD 415,386

In this study, Associate Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani of The University of Queensland in Australia proposes to better characterise the molecular nature of the factors provided by fibroblasts to support basal cell carcinoma (BCC) growth in vivo in order to find new targets for therapies that would prevent BCC development. He and his team will also show proof of principle demonstrating that targeting this process can actually prevent BCC development.

These findings have the potential to translate in effective prevention strategies, allowing field therapy of normal looking skin to avoid the development of new BCCs. Such finding will have strong health benefits in terms of morbidity associated with multiple surgeries, years of healthy life enjoyed by individuals and finally in terms of economic cost.

Young Scientists

Grantee: Mikkel Bohm, Young Scientists (Astra)

Amount: DKK 3,000,000

The talent competition, Young Scientists, is developing talents in both kids and young people in science.

It is believed that science is a powerful tool to understand and change the world for the better. The competition’s aim is to contribute to society in a meaningful way by inspiring a new generation and giving them engaging experiences with science.

The LEO Foundation has found this work important and supports the competition over three years.

LEO Foundation Center for Cutaneous Drug Delivery

Grantee: Department of Pharmacy, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Amount: DKK 40,000,000

Understanding how drugs interact with skin has long been a challenge within pharmaceutical research. Now, a new center at the Department of Pharmacy, UCPH, is set to become an international lighthouse in this research area, supported by a DKK 40 million grant from the LEO Foundation.

The LEO Foundation Center for Cutaneous Drug Delivery will form the basis of new research on skin and drugs. Behind the project is the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Copenhagen, where the center will also be located. The Director of the new center, Martin Malmsten, was formerly Head of Research at Uppsala University.

“I hope to contribute with my experience and thus help motivate and inspire colleagues and employees, enabling us to provide the best possible results. At the same time, I look forward to becoming part of the University of Copenhagen, where they have been very willing to prioritize strategic focus areas. The new center offers great and long-term opportunities for making an impact on international research and I’m happy to be part of this initiative, which will lift research in a very exciting area,” said Martin Malmsten.

The LEO Foundation Center for Cutaneous Drug Delivery will conduct research on what happens in and on the skin when we apply drugs. There will be a particular focus on the physical-chemical aspects of the interaction between skin and drugs, which is important to the development of new drugs. This will hopefully help optimize the drug properties and allow for maximum utilization while simultaneously minimizing side effects.

“Our new center meets a huge demand for understanding how drugs interact with skin. With a strong team of highly qualified researchers, we will set new standards for research in the field of dermatology and I’m both proud and grateful that this grant from the LEO Foundation has helped us attract new and strong forces to UCPH. This new strategic effort will benefit patients as well as society in general,” said Dean Ulla Wewer from the Department of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

Generating new knowledge while also providing a space for innovative research methods and new analytical technologies is what the center aims for. The LEO Foundation has backed the center with a grant of DKK 40 million over the next ten years, which in itself is quite remarkable.

“We’re very happy to support this important initiative and the grant of DKK 40 million over the next ten years is the single largest grant the foundation has ever awarded. What’s more important, however, is the fact that we are quite convinced that the center with its strong team of researchers has the potential to become a global powerhouse in terms of research on the dynamic interaction between drugs and skin,” said Lars Olsen, Chairman of the LEO Foundation.

The LEO Foundation Award 2014 – Silver Award

Grantee: Dr. Christina Zielinski

Amount: DKK 500,000

Presented to Dr. med. Christina Zielinski, research group leader and dermatological fellow, Department of Dermatology and Allergology and Berlin-Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies, Charité University Medicine, Berlin.

Dr. Zielinski’s research focuses on how the body’s immune system protects itself from microbial assault by distinguishing between the body’s own cells and foreign organisms. It examines what happens when the body does not regulate itself in this way and how this affects the development of autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. Insights gained from these studies are expected to identify molecular cues that can be exploited in order to develop immune modulation therapies.

The LEO Foundation Award 2014 – Gold Award

Grantee: Dr. Kim B. Jensen

Amount: DKK 1,000,000

Presented to Ph.D. Kim B. Jensen, associate professor at the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre at the University of Copenhagen.

Dr. Jensen’s research focuses on how the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, is constantly renewed throughout life in an organised manner by epidermal stem cells. Epidermal stem cells need to be carefully controlled as any imbalance is likely to have devastating consequences. Too little contribution from the stem cells can lead to bleeding ulcers, whereas too much contribution can lead to skin cancer. By examining how stem cells are regulated in the epidermis, Jensen hopes to gain insights into mechanisms responsible for disease development and identify new drugable pathways.

Psoriasis in children

Grantee: Professor Lone Skov, Department of Dermato-Allergology, Gentofte Hospital, Denmark

Amount: DKK 4,500,000

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition with a prevalence of 2-3% in northern Europe. While considerable research exists on adults with psoriasis, there is little research on the condition in children. Identifying key factors associated with psoriasis in childhood may lead to more effective control and possibly even prevention of the condition.

The study aims to determine environmental and genetic risk factors relating to the development of psoriasis in children, the nature of stress related to the child and family, and quality of life. The project also aims to determine the link with risk factors of co-morbidity and the effect of early intensive treatment.

The study is led by Professor Lone Skov, Department of Dermato-Allergology, Gentofte Hospital, Denmark. The team will explore the following hypotheses:

  • Risk factors for early onset of psoriasis can be predicted
  • Early debut of psoriasis has a significant impact on quality of life and individual and family-related stress
  • Early intensive treatment leads to remission
  • There is already an increased risk of co-morbidity in children with psoriasis
  • Age at debut, risk factors and co-morbidity are related
    to the genetic risk.

The study offers a unique possibility to access data from children with psoriasis shortly after diagnosis, which in turn can pave the way for new and improved tools for assessing the impact of the condition on quality of life in a well-controlled study design.

The LEO Foundation Award 2013 – Silver Award

Grantee: Dr. Muzlifah Haniffa

Amount: DKK 500,000

Presented to Muzlifah Haniffa, Wellcome Trust Clinical Intermediate Fellow in Dermatology at the Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, UK.

Dr. Haniffa’s research focuses on dendritic cells; a type of white blood cells also present in the skin that are important in regulating immune responses against microorganisms, cancer and tolerance to self-proteins. Her research has the potential to lead to enhanced vaccination strategies against cancer, such as melanoma, and infections.

The LEO Foundation Award 2013 – Gold Award

Grantee: Dr. Onur Boyman

Amount: DKK 1,000,000

Presented to Onur Boyman, Professor, Dr. med., Senior Consultant Physician and Head of Laboratory at the Department of Dermatology, University Hospital Zurich.

Professor Boyman’s research focuses on the function of T cell subsets and different cytokines in the pathogenesis of psoriasis and other immune-mediated diseases and the treatment of melanoma. His research shows great promise both as a potential treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and as a potential cancer therapy.

Identification and Characterization of Key Itch Mediators and Receptors in Human Pruitus

Grantee: Professor Martin Steinhoff, University of California San Francisco, CA, USA

Amount: USD 388,225

Itch is probably the most common symptom in dermatology and it is associated with a significant impact on the patient’s life.

A team led by Professor Martin Steinhoff, University of California San Francisco, has set out to develop novel targeted therapies for chronic itch in humans.

Besides the lesional and non-lesional as compared to healthy skin, the project team will also identify critical itch mediators and/or receptors that are expressed (and activated) in human dorsal root ganglion (DRG) and spinal cord tissue. To address this, mediators will be identified as well as receptors associated with human itch, and thereby the team will be able to define “biomarkers” for the different pruritic human diseases.

The project will be the first-of-a-kind study to analyse the expression and distribution of key itch mediators and receptors in human skin, human DRG and human spinal cord, and will therefore provide a significant basis for future translational research that targets these mediators/receptors in the different subtypes of itch.

Moreover, it is the first time that it will be tested whether several new itch pathways that have been described in murine skin models are relevant, i.e. can be translated, in human disease state.

Care for chronic skin diseases with a patient-centric approach

Grantee: Professor Lieve Brochez, University of Ghent, Belgium

Amount: EUR 330,000

Skin cancer is currently the most frequent type of cancer. At present, life-time risk is estimated at one in six and, with an ageing population, this is expected to increase even more. It is assumed that early detection allows better cure rates and more cost-effective treatment, and skin cancer thus seems suitable for screening initiatives. However, questions remain about the cost–benefit ratio.

This study is led by Professor Lieve Brochez of the University of Ghent, Belgium. It aims to calculate the actual cost of skin cancer in Belgium, the expected cost with an ageing population and how much early detection of skin cancer could affect these costs.

The team will use the results to develop an internationally applicable health-economic model. The model will allow other European countries to use local data, enabling data to be compared across Europe.

Secondly, the study will evaluate a new skin cancer screening approach to compare the yield of this type of screening to the yield of systematic screening in an asymptomatic population within a well-defined population.

Quality of life will be assessed for all screened persons with skin cancer and/or actinic keratosis in order to generate patient-centric data to evaluate the burden of skin cancer.