Spanish National Cancer Research Centre

“Towards Cancer Cure”

The Spanish National Cancer Research Centre Carlos III (CNIO) Foundation, located in Madrid and directed by Maria Blasco, is a world-class center for basic, translational and clinical cancer research. In the CNIO, over four hundred researchers at the forefront of international science strive to better understand the mechanisms of cancer, and to find ways to fight it. Thus, the fundamental mission of the CNIO is to gain knowledge and apply it to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

As a Comprehensive Cancer Research Centre, the CNIO conducts basic, translational and clinical research. In addition, an active innovation program ensures that the result of scientific discoveries reach the patient as soon as possible and also the market and the society in general.

In all these areas the CNIO continuously generates results. Among the most recent, is signing of an agreement with the multinational company Merck Serono to further develop the first experimental drugs generated at the CNIO, unprecedented in public science research centres in Spain. Amongst other equally important milestones achieved at CNIO is the creation of a Pediatric Clinical Trials Unit in collaboration with the Niño Jesus Hospital in Madrid, and close to a thousand genetic studies in patients with a high risk of developing cancer, which helps them to assess their personal risk and manage their life accordingly.

These are measurable results. According to the impact of its research publications (SIR World 2013, SCImago), the CNIO ranks 14th among the world’s top biomedical research institutions and it is the 4th in Europe and 1st in Spain. If the comparison is limited to cancer centres, the CNIO ranks in the second position world-wide.

In 2011, the Ministry of Science and Innovation recognized the CNIO as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence in acknowledgement of the quality of its research.

Basic research programmes focus on the different cancer research areas.

Studies at the Molecular Oncology Programme, directed by Manuel Serrano, aim at understanding the molecular mechanisms that control cell division and genomic integrity, and how when not working properly these can lead to cancer.

The BBVA Foundation-CNIO Cancer Cell Biology Programme led by Dr. Erwin Wagner investigates the interactions of tumor cells with the organism’s environment, including processes such as inflammation, angiogenesis, hypoxia, cell adhesion, metabolism and metastasis.

Alfonso Valencia leads the Structural Biology and Biocomputing Programme which uses computational methods to understand the occurrence and significance of genomic alterations in tumors. It also contributes to the design of more effective drugs for cancer treatment.


At the Human Cancer Genetics Programme, Javier Benitez and other groups study the genetic basis of familial cancer. Key activities of the programme are the characterisation of tumors, finding markers for diagnosis and prognosis, and the design and coordination of international large-scale epidemiological studies. These studies with thousands of patients are becoming an essential tool for identifying genetic and environmental factors that affect the risk of developing cancer.

The CNIO also conducts important clinical activities in genetic counseling through the Familial Cancer Unit located in the local Fuenlabrada University Hospital, the Molecular Diagnostics Unit and the group of Molecular Cytogenetics. It carries out nearly a thousand genetic determinations per year.

The CNIO’s Clinical Research Program directed by Manuel Hidalgo has established a network of collaborating hospitals to perform clinical trials and aims to develop new cancer treatments. The programme that initially carried out activities mainly in pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer is now expanding to other indications.

The Experimental Therapeutics Programme directed by Joaquín Pastor is dedicated to the creation of novel and more effective drugs to treat cancer. Last year, the first experimental preclinical drug candidates entirely developed by this programme were partnered for further development with companies such as Merck Serono and Inflection Biosciences.

The Biotechnology Program headed by Fernando Pelaez includes most of the Technical and Support Units, including the Genomics, Monoclonal Antibodies, Transgenic Mice, Histopathology, Molecular Imaging, Flow Cytometry, Confocal Microscopy and Proteomics. In addition, the Technical Units create new processes, products and services. An example is the development of more than 100 strain models of genetically modified mice that mimic many aspects of human cancer. These are now a main resources of the scientific activity of CNIO including preclinical biomarker validation studies and testing antitumor compounds.

In addition the CNIO has a Technology Transfer Office, directed by Anabel Sanz which strengthens strategic relationships with life sciences companies and has already signed numerous contracts with industry.  For example, since 2012 the CNIO is part of the Roche’s Innovation Network, a prestigious network of institutions around the world. The CNIO is the first Spanish institution and third European belonging to this network.

Scientific Productivity
During 2013 the CNIO has published a total of 229 articles, 55 of which in journals with impact factors between 10 and 15 and above 15. Within the last 5 years about 100 PhD theses have been defended. This scientific productivity shows that the CNIO is one of the leading cancer research centres in the health sector worldwide.

Among last year’s publications is the achievement by the group of Manuel Serrano in generating stem cells directly in a living organism. It is an important accomplishment in the field of regenerative medicine, and it was considered one of the most notables scientific advances in 2013 by the prestigious journal Nature Medicine.

Human Resources
At the end of 2013 the CNIO had 433 employees, including 392 scientists and 41 administrative staff. CNIO scientists have been very successful in obtaining ERC grants, the most prestigious European research grants. The CNIO has been particularly proficient in attracting young and international researchers (72% of the workforce is under 40 years) overcoming gender (63% of the staff are women) and cultural (24% of the scientific staff is foreign) barriers.

Competitive Funding
A substantial part of CNIO’s research comes from Spanish, European and international public agencies and private entities. In 2013 there have been 140 competitive research projects of these 31 were international collaborative projects. Since 2006, the CNIO has nearly doubled its capacity to obtain external funding, while the budget of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness was increased by 7%.

Spanish National Cancer Research Centre
+34 917 328 000
+34 912 246 900