CANCER RESEARCH UK has today (Monday) launched Grand Challenges* – the biggest and most ambitious cancer grants in the world – which aim to overcome the greatest barriers standing in the way of beating cancer.

“This is research on a scale never before attempted in cancer – it’s big, it’s bold, and I’m very excited to be part of this journey.” – Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge board

The £100 million investment will revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by uniting teams of the best scientists around the world to come up with answers to crucial questions about how to save more lives from cancer.

A panel of influential scientists** worked with cancer researchers and patients worldwide to set seven challenges which cover some of the most important unanswered questions*** in cancer research.

Cancer Research UK will now invite international scientists across all disciplines from academia, technology and business to come up with innovative, ambitious approaches to tackle these problems. If successful, these will revolutionise our understanding of cancer and could save more lives.

The first winning proposal will be announced in the autumn of 2016, with the successful team**** awarded up to £20 million to fund five or more years of research.

During the next five years Cancer Research UK plans to make at least five Grand Challenge awards to stimulate fresh thinking and investment in multiple areas of cancer research.

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge board and former director of the US National Cancer Institute, said: “Seeing the scientific community come together to find new ways to tackle cancer has been truly inspiring. Cancer Research UK is challenging the very way we think about cancer by bringing together scientists and patients with fresh new ideas unconstrained by discipline or location. This is research on a scale never before attempted in cancer – it’s big, it’s bold, and I’m very excited to be part of this journey.”

Margaret Grayson, a patient advisor on the Grand Challenge panel, said: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer alongside six other women I grew to be close friends with, and in the first five years I’ve been to all of their funerals. So I’m determined to see the odds improve for future cancer patients and I see the Grand Challenge as the way Cancer Research UK is going to do this.”

Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said: “Thanks to the amazing advances in our understanding of cancer and the availability of powerful new technologies, we’re at a pivotal time in cancer research. The prospect of major advances in tackling cancer have never been greater, but to realise these opportunities we need to galvanise the global scientific community to unite and work together to solve some of the biggest challenges we face. By doing this we can transform the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

“This is a huge and bold commitment for Cancer Research UK and it’s already generating a lot of excitement. Cancer is a global problem and it demands a global response – we know that scientists around the world, and from varied disciplines, will have brilliant and innovative ideas to address these challenges and we can’t wait to see them.”


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.


* Visit the website for more information:

** The panel includes Professor Sir Adrian Bird, Professor Suzanne Cory, Professor Dame Sally Davies, Professor Ed Harlow, Professor Tyler Jacks, Dr Rick Klausner, Professor Sir David Lane, Dr Christopher Wild and Dr Brian Druker.

*** The initial seven Grand Challenges are:

  • The power of the immune system is already being used to treat cancer. Vaccines are available to prevent cancers caused by viruses. Now we want to see vaccines that can prevent other cancers from developing in the first place. Cancer Research UK’s first Grand Challenge is: to develop vaccines to prevent non-viral cancers 
  • Every year 200,000 cancers occur because of the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV). We want to reduce that figure to zero. Cancer Research UK’s second Grand Challenge is: to eradicate EBV-induced cancers from the world.
  • To prevent cancer, we need to better understand what causes different mutational signatures in our DNA – the ones we already know about, and the ones we haven’t yet discovered. Cancer Research UK’s third Grand Challenge is: to discover how unusual patterns of mutation are induced by different cancer-causing events
  • Our methods for diagnosing cancer simply aren’t good enough. We need to detect the disease at an early stage, but the diagnosis needs to be more accurate too. Cancer Research UK’s fourth Grand Challenge is: to distinguish between lethal cancers that need treating, and non-lethal cancers that don’t
  • We won’t understand how tumours function until we understand why all the cells are there, how they got there, and what they are doing. Cancer Research UK’s fifth Grand Challenge is: to find a way of mapping tumours at the molecular and cellular level
  • It’s one of the most promising therapeutic targets in cancer research, but it defies conventional drug discovery. Can innovation and the world’s smartest minds unlock its potential?  Cancer Research UK’s sixth Grand Challenge is: to develop innovative approaches to target the cancer super-controller MYC
  • We don’t yet have a good way of getting macromolecules, potentially the most powerful anti-cancer drugs we have, into different parts of the body. Cancer Research UK’s seventh Grand Challenge is: to deliver biologically active macromolecules to any and all cells in the body

**** How the teams are put together will depend on the nature of the challenge but they are expected to include a principal investigator and up to seven co-investigators, a patient advocate, and a mixture of disciplines at all investigator levels. At least one co-investigator must be based in the UK.