BioMed X Institute and Merck start new oncology research project

DNA, DNA double-helix

BioMed X, a German independent research institute, has started a new research project ‘Extrachromosomal DNA in Cancer’ (EDC) in collaboration with the Healthcare Business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. 

The main objective of this research group is to develop an atlas of extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA) in human cancer tissues and trace back the mechanisms of ecDNA formation and function.

Extrachromosomal DNA refers to DNA sequences that are not located on chromosomes. Moreover, cancer-associated extrachromosomal DNA usually contains oncogenes and regulatory regions that can provide a selective growth advantage, such as drug resistance, to the cancer cells that possess it, while also rapidly leading to increased intratumoral genetic heterogeneity.

Alexandros Drainas, group leader of team EDC, explained why this is relevant for cancer treatment.

“Oncogene amplification plays a central role in tumorigenesis, and ecDNA is a frequent and effective mechanism for gene amplification in cancer cells,” Drainas said. 

“We need to understand the precise biology of these DNA elements in order to design more potent anticancer treatments, especially for aggressive forms of cancer that rapidly become resistant to therapies.” 

Ongoing collaboration

This is the seventh collaboration on an oncology topic between the BioMed X Institute and the Healthcare Business of Merck, and the third currently active project developing innovative anticancer therapies. 

The other two Darmstadt-partnered cancer research teams at the BioMed X Institute are studying RNA splicing in cancer and synthetic lethality in DNA repair. Rather than studying a particular cancer type, all three projects aim to understand the essentials of how the biology is altered in the context of cancer.

“With these three current projects, we are at the forefront of deep cancer biology, and complying with our vision of seeding biomedical innovation for the benefit of patients,” said Christian Tidona, founder and managing director of the BioMed X Institute. 

“Merck, Darmstadt, Germany, was our first industry partner when BioMed X was launched in 2013, and we are delighted to strengthen our collaboration with them through this new exciting project.” 

Further details about this new research project can be found at

About BioMed X

BioMed X is an independent research institute located on the campus of the University of Heidelberg in Germany. 

Together with its partners, the institute identifies big biomedical research challenges and provides solutions by combining global crowdsourcing with local incubation of early-career researchers. 

Each of the research teams at BioMed X has access to research infrastructure and is guided by mentors from academia and industry. 

Explore other topics: GermanyMerck

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