30 Mar 2018

Professor Serge Uzan, director of the University Institute of Oncology, talks about the successes of this multidisciplinary structure that brings together the research, care and training in the fight against cancer.

Serge Uzan
Serge Uzan

What is the vocation of the University Institute of Oncology?

The University Institute of Oncology (IUC) was created in 2012 to bring together the care, research and teaching forces dedicated to oncology at Sorbonne University. We have several hospital care sites, including La Pitié-Salpêtrière, Charles Foix, Saint-Antoine, Tenon, Rothschild, and Trousseau, as well as many research units devoted to work related to cancer.

What is the strength of this institute?

We treat more than 16,000 cancer patients in the IUC each year. We treat all forms of cancer, and at all ages. Our impact, which is also based on our significant scientific output, makes the IUC one of the major centers for the fight against cancer in the care, research and teaching sectors.

We have won calls for projects in many areas such as sequencing and genomics, early phase pharmacological trials with a CLIP (Center INCa [1] of Early Phases). We also obtained one of 8 SIRIC certifications as an Integrated Research Site in Cancerology in France: the SIRIC CURAMUS is dedicated to certain forms of tumors and rare cancers.

In addition, we will inaugurate, in the coming weeks, a particularly innovative platform dedicated to risk management in oncology, as part of Sorbonne University’s Excellence Initiative award.

What are your goals within the IUC?

Our objectives are twofold: to favor all forms of research, including the so-called "hard" sciences, and to favor teamwork. Our sponsors, Cédric Villani and the Barbarian Rugby Club, are a reflection of this dual ambition.

To coordinate this work, we have created a structure that I lead and which encourages collaboration, including exchanges between teams through conferences, collaborations between laboratories, and joint responses to calls for projects.

Finally, Sorbonne University has solidified our special relationship with our colleagues in the arts and humanities to create a university that spans knowledge in medicine, science and humanities.

The French government’s 3rd plan to fight cancer is centered on 3 directives: investing in prevention and research, curing more patients, and preserving the quality and continuity of life. How have you implemented these directives at the IUC?

These aspects of the 3rd Cancer Plan have been largely implemented at the IUC, particularly through reinforced activity in the field of fertility preservation to maintain life projects of young patients treated in our centers. Our supportive care provides an easy return to everyday life and much of our research is devoted to life after cancer. In addition, the University of Patients plays an important role in the accompaniment of patients through a dedicated university diploma: Mission to accompany the patient's journey in oncology (in French).

What progress has been made in personalized medicine?

Personalized medicine, which aims to prescribe treatments and follow-up that are adapted to each patient thanks to a characterization of the individual and the type of tumor, remains an essential objective in our research, on the medical as well as sociological levels. That's why we participate in many trials in this area.

This approach is one of the main focuses at IUC with translational research that bridges the gap between basic research and clinical research involving both mixed research structures and centers, units or clinical research groups, most of which are certified.

What type of education programs in oncology need to be developed for future practitioners?

From the beginning, we created a doctoral program dedicated to oncology, which is very popular with students, especially internationally. The agreements we have signed under this program with the United States, Brazil, and very soon the University of Shanghai, show its value is recognized throughout the world.

Our university, which is also responsible for the coordination of national degrees in oncology, has also developed a specific teaching unit for personalized oncology, as well as a master's degree for paramedics that we are currently setting up. We are also continuing to develop all the education needed for this new environment for oncology activity, such as statistics, mathematics, modeling and basic biology. 

How do you see oncology developing in the next 10 years? 

I see oncology continuing the extraordinary progress that we have been involved in for the last 5 years at Sorbonne University. I think that oncology will evolve simultaneously towards more and more effective and targeted treatments, and that are also less onerous for the patients, in particular in terms of side effects. It will offer a more equitable benefit/risk ratio, thanks to the personalization of the medicine, which will be one of the characteristics of the oncology of the future.