Cancer Research UK today (Thursday) launches the second phase of its global Grand Challenge by announcing eight new questions* – identified as some of the biggest barriers to making progress against cancer – and inviting the world’s top scientists to come together with new proposals to tackle them.

“By bringing together some of the world’s leaders in cancer research we’ve come up with eight key challenges that, if answered, could see research leap ahead at new speeds.” – Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK

Grand Challenge – the most ambitious cancer research grant in the world – is a series of £20million awards over five years. The funding provides international research teams the freedom and incentive to try new approaches, at large scale, to pursue life changing discoveries.

Understanding the biology and genetics of cancer, and how to better prevent, diagnose and treat the disease are all areas covered by the eight questions.

International collaborations will be asked to:

Grand Challenge is calling for teams made up of researchers from different countries, backgrounds and disciplines to use their combined knowledge to solve these monumental problems.

In 2016 during the first phase, nine pioneering teams were shortlisted from 56 bids, against seven Grand Challenges.

The Independent Scientific Advisory Panel** were so excited by the world class potential of the shortlisted teams, they felt passionately that more than one needed to be funded.

With the generous support of an international philanthropist and another European research funder* four remarkable teams** were selected as the inaugural Grand Challenge recipients – each receiving up to £20m funding over five years.

Now, with eight new challenges set, researchers will have four months to assemble teams and submit outline proposals before the shortlisted teams are announced in January 2018.

Cancer Research UK will then seed-fund shortlisted teams. This will allow them to develop full applications which the Advisory Panel will review before determining those that display the ambition and high quality to receive funding.

The recipients will be announced in November 2018.

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge advisory panel and former director of the US National Cancer Institute, said: “This second phase of Grand Challenge is incredibly exciting. We were overwhelmed with the teams who came forward for the first round. Now, with a renewed set of questions, we have pushed into new areas requiring new approaches and new collaborations. We look forward to the research community rising to this set of challenges, putting their best and brightest minds to the task of game-changing breakthroughs.”

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Grand Challenge is breaking down barriers and accelerating progress. By bringing together some of the world’s leaders in cancer research we’ve come up with eight key challenges that, if answered, could see research leap ahead at new speeds. We want to unite previously separate researchers whether in academia or industry and create a movement of research without borders. We invite all researchers with the curiosity and ambition to answer the Grand Challenge to make a submission and help beat cancer sooner.”

To find out more about Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge visit


* The full eight new challenges are focussing on:


Devise approaches to prevent or treat cancer based on mechanisms that determine tissue specificity of some cancer genes

Topline: Understand why mistakes in certain genes only cause cancer in specific parts of the body


Create novel tumour vaccinology approaches that establish or enhance successful immune responses beyond what is revealed by current checkpoint therapy

Topline: Understand how immunotherapies work so doctors can identify who will benefit from them


Define mechanistic rules for combinatorial treatments to overcome resistance and avoid toxicity

Topline: Work out the best way to combine treatments


Distinguish between lethal cancers which need treating, and non-lethal cancers that don’t

Topline: Identify which cancers are potentially lethal and need treatment and which aren’t


Identify and target tumour cells that remain dormant for many years after seemingly effective treatment

Topline: Understand how some cancers come back many years after treatment


Detect cancer earlier by interrogating medical and non-medical data sets using machine and deep-learning

Topline: Get clues to detect cancer earlier from medical and non-medical information


Improve treatment responses by manipulating the composition and status of the microbiota

Topline: Understand how microbes inside our bodies affect cancer treatment


Determine the mechanisms that cause cancer without known mutagenesis, such as obesity, in order to devise novel interventions

Topline: Understand how lifestyle factors, such as obesity, cause cancer

** The Independent Scientific Advisory Panel includes Dr Rick Klausner, Professor Sir Adrian Bird, Professor Suzanne Cory, Professor Ed Harlow, Professor Sir David Lane, Professor Nic Jones, Dr Christopher Wild, Professor René Bernards and Dr Brian Druker.

*** The Dutch Cancer Society (KWF) is half funding the team led by Dr Jelle Wesseling and an anonymous donor is funding the team led by Dr Josephine Bunch.

**** The inaugural four teams undertaking Grand Challenge projects are working to:

  • Study tumour metabolism from every angle. Lead investigator: Dr Josephine Bunch, National Physical Laboratory, UK
  • Prevent unnecessary breast cancer treatment. Lead investigator: Dr Jelle Wesseling, Netherlands Cancer Institute, The Netherlands
  • Create virtual reality maps of tumours. Lead investigator: Professor Greg Hannon, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, UK
  • Identify unknown preventable causes of cancer. Lead investigator: Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK