Vall d’Hebron Instituto de Oncología (VHIO)


Josep Tabernero, Director of the VHIO

Elena Garralda, Director of the Research Unit for Molecular Therapy of Cancer - CaixaImpulse (UITM-CaixaImpulse ) at the VHIO


Vall d’Hebron Institut d’Oncologia (VHIO), Spain


Since 2008, the ”la Caixa” Foundation has collaborated with the Vall d’Hebron Institut d’Oncologia (VHIO), providing continued structural support to its activities in research, innovation and clinical trials of new anticancer drugs.

The VHIO is a biomedical research centre made up of scientists and physicians who work together to link basic science with clinical research. The main purpose of the Institute is to promote and develop excellence in the investigation of oncological diseases, and to work to increase contributions to the development of new and improved therapies for the treatment of cancer.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, with around 18 million new cases diagnosed and more than 9.6 million cancer-related deaths every year. While cancer survival rates continue to improve, there are still many tumour types with no effective treatments. Clinical trials are key to identifying and developing novel therapies against cancers and are only possible at VHIO thanks to the continued support from the ”la Caixa” Foundation for operation of the Research Unit for Molecular Therapy of Cancer - CaixaImpulse (UITM-CaixaImpulse ).

The VHIO’s UITM-CaixaImpulse unit was created in 2010 and is now an international reference in the development of new cancer treatments and improvement of existing therapies, as well as in the optimal molecular selection of patients likely to respond to these therapies, through the development of advanced molecular diagnostic panels. The UITM-CaixaImpulse enables patients who have tried all other lines of therapy without success to access treatments that could actually change the course of their disease. Most of these patients are referred to this unit from their referral hospitals in Catalonia, Spain or abroad, because standard treatments have proved ineffective and they have run out of options; the only alternative available to them is to participate in a clinical trial adapted to the type of tumour they have. Many of the patients who take part in such a trial at the UITM are the first to try a new type of therapy that may subsequently be administered to other patients with a type of disease similar to theirs.

VHIO’s UITM-CaixaImpulse unit conducts and coordinates highly complex clinical trials with drugs in early development (Phase I and early Phase II trials), focused on innovative targets. From its creation up to 2020, as a direct result of the clinical studies conducted at the UITM-CaixaImpulse the FDA approved 35 new drugs for the treatment of certain tumour types, which are becoming increasingly more targeted thanks to personalised medicine. These drugs are either newly created or previously approved medications for which proven efficacy has been established against another type of tumour.

In the decade from 2010 to 2020, more than 7,800 patients were enrolled in clinical trials at the UITM-CaixaImpulse. Personalised medicine, targeted therapies, molecular patient screening and immune-based therapies are key to ongoing progress. Total drug development and approval times have been reduced from around 8 to 10 years to 2 to 5 years on average. This has direct benefits for the patient, who may have access to new treatments that would otherwise not be available.

The CaixaImpulse Advanced Oncology Research Programme (2020-2023) will provide a further boost to the development of more potent and precise anti-cancer medicines. It will enable the consolidation of existing research lines and the initiation of new projects to lead cutting-edge research in some of the most relevant and emerging focus fields in precision oncology. These are areas that show particular promise for resolving the multiple issues that stand in the way of a more effective fight against cancer. The Programme will make it possible to apply new approaches and a new arsenal against cancer, which includes liquid biopsies, RNA expression analysis, immune-based therapies, bispecific antibodies, oncolytic virus, and intratumoural therapy.


Continued support


Access all the information through the VHIO website.


National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO)


María Blasco, CNIO director


National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), Spain


The National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) was established in 1998 as a state foundation governed by a Board of Trustees.

”la Caixa” Foundation has been represented on the CNIO Board of Trustees since 2010 and has supported the centre through various programmes, including the Severo Ochoa grants, doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, and CaixaResearch calls for proposals in research and innovation.

At the CNIO, more than 400 highly specialised professionals are engaged in preventing cancer from continuing to be one of the main causes of death in our society. On a global level, the CNIO is ranked among the best cancer research centres in the world in terms of both the number and quality of scientific papers accepted for publication and its innovative breakthroughs, which pave the way for new drugs and therapies.

One of the centre’s main objectives is to understand why cancer occurs. The CNIO’s researchers are convinced that it is only by achieving an understanding of the whys and hows of cancer that we can learn to prevent it and, if it does appear, to detect and combat it effectively.

Another key objective is to ensure that the benefits of the CNIO’s work reach patients as soon as humanly possible. Researchers discover and select likely compounds to be transformed into drugs, which are then patented and licensed out to the pharmaceutical industry; the CNIO takes the lead in supervising clinical trials and conducts diagnosis and genetic consultation procedures for families. The centre has also encouraged the emergence of new biotechnology ventures that have created jobs and forge direct contacts with patients.

The centre, which is equipped with the most cutting-edge technology, is driven by a constant concern to put its facilities to the best use.

The CNIO is a young centre that attracts talented researchers from all over the world. The finest scientists and oncologists come to learn here. Moreover, over 60 % of its research associates are under 40 years of age, while more than 20 % of young people awarded post-doctoral contracts come from universities outside Spain. Moreover, its scientific advances are largely the work of women, who account for 68 % of all CNIO scientists.


Continued support


Access all the information through the CNIO website.

Bilateral agreements

  • Immunotherapy is currently the most promising strategy in the personalised treatment of cancer. Since its emergence in 2011, CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell) therapy has revolutionised the treatment of leukaemia and lymphoma, and it is now being trialled in other malignancies and solid tumours.

    In 2013, Hospital Clínic de Barcelona initiated the development of this technology for construction of its own CART19, with the training of immunologists and clinicians in the USA. The application of CAR-T therapy in the ARI Project was granted approval for use as a hospital exemption product for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

    Support from ”la Caixa” Foundation has enabled the structural funding of the Unitat per a la Investigació en Immunoteràpia del Càncer with the aim of engaging in new lines of research into CAR-T and other therapies. These include systems of genetically modifying lymphocytes, dendritic cells, circulating antitumour lymphocytes and tumour infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), as well as those related to initiatives with cellular and molecular elements responsible for immunotherapy proposals.

    Project leader: Manel Juan

    Projectduration: 2019-2022

    Grant: €4,500,000

    » More information

  • Every year, some 7,500 people in Spain are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, a part of the immune system that mainly contributes to forming and activating the body’s defences. In most patients, the disease is eliminated after intensive cycles of chemotherapy and often a bone marrow transplant. However, many patients relapse, and there are currently very few therapeutic options that can be offered to them.

    Dr. Briones and his team propose to conduct a clinical trial using the same technology as that employed in CART19 immunotherapy, but in a specific subtype of T-cells, stem cell memory T cells (TSCM). These cells have a greater self-renewing capacity and enhanced antitumour efficacy, thus this strategy may produce better results than others. The project driven by the ”la Caixa” Foundation will carry out two trials with a total of 55 patients to study this new immunotherapy.

    Project leader: Javier Briones

    Project duration: 2019-2022

    Grant: €2,000,000

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  • Childhood cancer is a random, unpredictable disease that affects 1,200 children in Spain and 160,000 children worldwide every year. Although it is considered a minority and largely unknown disease, it has devastating effects on both the children and young people who suffer from it and their families. Moreover, despite the fact that 80% of childhood cancers can be cured, the therapies used are very aggressive and non-specific, as well as leaving many after-effects.

    ”la Caixa” Foundation has donated €3,000,000 to Sant Joan de Déu Hospital's new Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona (PCCB) to fund research into new ways of treating cancer at what is destined to become a leading centre in both Spain and Europe as a whole.

    The support provided by ”la Caixa” Foundation will be channelled into two main lines of action: care, and translational research. The objective is to increase the possibility of curing childhood cancer by seeking new, more effective treatments, decreasing the side-effects, and discovering new ways of treating cancers that are incurable today.

    The new PCCB will be the largest centre of its type in Europe devoted to treating and researching into childhood cancer, and will have capacity to provide care for 400 new patients every year. Its facilities will occupy a total area of 13,196 square metres in a four-storey building connected to Sant Joan de Déu Hospital. The centre will have 38 rooms for patients, 8 rooms equipped for haematopoietic stem-cell transplants, 24 boxes in the day hospital, 18 offices for outpatient consultations, radiopharmacy, and spaces to expand the existing research laboratories. In short, the PCCB is designed to become a leading international centre ready to provide its services to any child suffering from this illness.

    Project leader: Manel del Castillo, managing director, Hospital Sant Joan de Déu de Barcelona

    Project director: 2018-2023

    Grant: €3,000,000

  • Liver cancer is a tumour that is highly resistant to traditional chemotherapy, with mortality figures similar to its incidence. Around 29 million people suffer from chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis causes some 170,000 deaths every year in addition to the 47,000 resulting from of liver cancer. Immunotherapy is emerging as an effective alternative for the treatment of chronic hepatic infections and hepatic cancer.

    In 2018, the ”la Caixa” Foundation and the CIMA launched this research project to develop new therapeutic strategies against these diseases.

    The HepaCare project, led by doctors Matías Ávila and Juan José Lasarte, is studying the molecular mechanisms involved in the development of liver cancer to discover new targets that improve diagnosis and follow-up of this disease, as well as new methods of prevention and treatment. In particular, they are evaluating the use of specific inhibitors of pathways involved in chronic liver damage and liver cancer that could improve the management of these diseases.

    Project leaders: Matías Ávila and Juan José Lasarte

    Project duration: 2017-2020

    Grant: €2,850,000

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  • Cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of death in Europe. Advances in cellular and molecular biology and genetics have enabled the development of specific personalised therapies. However, these treatments often give rise to resistance and progression of the disease, with very high mortality rates.

    Scientific evidence has shown that other factors may explain the progression of a tumour, such as tissue stiffness. It is important to study this field in depth so that knowledge can be transferred to patients.

    The general aim of the project is to understand the way tissue stiffness and biochemical signals determine tumour progression and the adequacy of therapy. In parallel, the project sets out to develop technologies that measure these factors and optimise drug administration.

    Project leader: Xavier Trepat

    Project duration: 2017-2021

    Grant: €1,500,000

  • Malignant solid tumours are one of the main causes of non-traumatic death in children and adolescents today. Despite advances in understanding and treating cancer, the outlook for this type of tumour remains bleak. Current therapies are not effective in combating the disease, particularly in the case of more aggressive tumours such as high-grade brain tumours and metastatic osteosarcoma, and many patients finally die. Moreover, the aggressive nature of the treatments applied can lead to serious after-effects, which can have an impact on the development and cognitive capacity of children. That is why it is necessary to find new therapeutic approaches that can generate more effective responses with less toxicity.

    In recent years, immunotherapy – a treatment based on stimulating the patient's own immune response to the tumour – has been at the centre of a revolution enabling a cure to be found for patients who do not respond to conventional therapies. Unfortunately, this approach has not been equally effective in the case of paediatric tumours as, in most cases, either these patients do not generate an immune response against the tumour that can be stimulated in the clinic or the tumours become invisible to the immune system.

    The objective of "Children Against Cancer", a research project led by doctors Marta Alonso and Ana Patiño, is to generate new therapeutic tools that can overcome the limitations of immunotherapy in paediatric tumours. The project is based on the use of oncolytic viruses to this end. These viruses, which are designed specifically to attack tumour cells, are capable of generating an immune response against the tumour per se. Moreover, they are modified to incorporate different immunostimulatory molecules that enhance the anti-tumour effect of immune system cells recruited by the virus itself.

    Project leaders: Dr. Ana Patiño and Dr. Marta Alonso

    Project duration: 2018-2022

    Grant: €400,000

  • Breast cancer is the most common tumour among Western women. Cancer patients often experience periods of disconnection with their healthcare professionals. These include the breaks between therapy cycles or when the patient overcomes the disease and becomes a “long-term survivor”.

    The aim of this project is to contribute to enhancing the health and quality of life of the population through the generation and dissemination of knowledge excellence in the health field through the use of the Internet.

    This will be achieved by development of the XEMIO digital health platform, the main goal of which is to help patients undergoing breast cancer treatment when they are at home, as well as long-term survivors. XEMIO is a digital platform with three core elements:

    • Website with forums and news to create a virtual meeting place to support patients.

    • Area where health professionals can track side effects and collect data to improve decision-making.

    • Listing of workshops and solidarity and group activities to help from the social perspective.

    More information on and @xemio_org.

    Project leader: Imma Grau and Dr. Montserrat Muñoz

    Project duration: 2019-2022

    Grant: €185,000

Selected projects