THERACAT: The use of Bio-orthogonal catalysis for cancer therapy


Cancer is a major health issue around the globe. The social and economic relevance of this disease is continuously growing. Yearly about 14.1 million people are diagnosed with cancer. Almost 58% of these cases lead to death. To date, the three most established treatments for cancer are surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. All lead to numerous adverse effects that affect the quality of life of the patient and limit the treatment of the disease. Therefore, the researchers are aiming to find new side-effect-free therapies to treat the most aggressive forms of cancer.

THERACAT is a scientific consortium, which aims to develop such a new approach to cancer therapy. It is a group, which comprises six academic partners from five different countries and three private sector beneficiaries: TEVA, Tagworks, and Biogelx. Moreover, it consists of three partners active on scientific communication (Cancer Research UK), on management and entrepreneurship (ESADE Business School) and on gender and minorities (UAB-Observatory for Equality). The THERACAT team has established an international programme focused on the development of catalysis-based approaches towards the treatment of cancer.

THERACAT team - cancer therapy

The project is based on the idea to deliver nano- and micro-particles bearing a catalytic unit to the tumour site and subsequently, non-active prodrugs are administered to the patient. The prodrugs will be non-toxic and therefore generate limited side effects. Only at the tumour site, the catalytic particles convert the pro-drugs into active anticancer compounds that generate a local and strong effect, as single catalytic species can activate many drug molecules.

The multidisciplinary researchprogram aims

  • to characterise the bio-orthogonal catalytic materials;
  • to design of novel anti-cancer prodrugs and catalytic strategies for their activation;
  • to develop delivery strategies for the catalytic materials in vitro and in vivo;
  • to evaluate the in vitro and in vivo performances for cancer therapy.

In addition to evaluating several transition-metal-based catalysts for the activation of selected, chemotherapeutic agents that are currently applied in cancer treatment therapies, the team aims to expand the arsenal of therapeutics that can be activated by bio-orthogonal organometallic catalysts and to develop novel spectroscopy and microscopy methods that will enable to test the prodrug activating capacity of the nanomaterials proposed in THERACAT. In later stages of the project, the pairs of catalytic materials and prodrugs developed will be evaluated and studied extensively in in vitrobiological models as well as orthotopic cancer models in mice to determine the biodistribution of the newly synthesized compounds and the anticancer activity of the activated prodrugs in vivo. A key part of the project will be the development of 3D hydrogel-based cancer models at Biogelx.


THERACAT is a Horizon2020 funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Training Network (H2020-MSCA-ITN-2017, Project 765497). This multidisciplinary programme will train 13 early stage researchers, with the combination of research expertise, cutting-edge facilities, and the complementary skills present in the consortium providing a great platform for the advancement of their careers, as well as of the knowledge of catalysis-based anticancer therapies. Stay connected with for more updates on the project!


THERACAT members: Fundació Institut de Bioenginyeria de Catalunya | Rijksuniversiteit Groningen | Technische Universiteit Eindhoven | Universitat Basel, University of Edinburgh | Tel Aviv University | Cancer Research UK | Fundación ESADE | Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona | TEVA Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. | Tagworks | Biogelx Limited.


Read more about the project:

The THERACAT Project gets off to a flying start!

Advanced Biomaterials a key focus in the development of Bioorthogonal and Bioresponsive Strategies with Therapeutic Potential




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