The city of London will be transformed into a world leading hub for cancer biotherapeutics research and treatment, with a new £14 million investment from Cancer Research UK, announced today.
The new Cancer Research UK City of London Centre* brings together world-leading researchers from UCL, King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London and the Francis Crick Institute. It will become a global centre of excellence for biotherapeutics, a pioneering field of cancer research.
Cancer patients over large parts of the capital, including some of the most deprived areas of the city, will have the opportunity to take part in pioneering research as part of their treatment. Around 14 million** people, in London and other areas of the country, are covered by the NHS trusts within UCL Partners and Kings Health Partners, and will be set to have access to the very latest innovations in biological cancer therapies.
Dr Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said: “Our investment represents a major vote of confidence in London’s place at the heart of global biomedical research and is predicted to bring enormous benefit to the city’s residents, businesses and hospitals.
“The unique research focus of the Cancer Research UK City of London Centre will lay the foundation for the future of precision medicine, where existing treatments are combined with, or even replaced entirely by the latest biological therapies, with the hope of achieving lasting cures for more cancer patients.”
Biotherapeutics are any type of treatment that is produced by, involves, or manipulates living cells. These therapies are based on biological processes in cells, which we can engineer to help fight cancer. For example, immunotherapy has transformed our ability to treat some types of cancer, harnessing the body’s own powerful immune system to eliminate cancer cells.
Professor Tariq Enver, centre lead at UCL, said: “There have already been huge advances in biotherapeutics, many led from our Centre, and there’s enormous potential to transform how we approach the hardest to treat cancers like brain tumours and lung cancer.
“Our ambition is for the Centre to stimulate further economic activity in biotechnology in London as new companies are formed, and industry partners move in to translate the most promising discoveries into marketable therapies. London’s hospitals will also become flagship centres for treating patients with these new biological therapies, setting the standard for healthcare providers all over the world.”
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “We believe that, in the future, the biotherapeutics field will transform cancer care. However, there are several research challenges still to tackle. We need to understand why some patients respond to these new treatments while others don’t, and how to identify which patients might experience harmful side effects. Most importantly, we need to optimise their activity to offer more patients access to these therapies who may benefit. With this substantial new funding and world leading expertise, the Cancer Research UK City of London Centre is especially well placed to deliver on these promises.
“We now know more about the genetic diversity within tumours, how they evolve, and the body’s immune response to cancer, than ever before. There’s a huge opportunity to use this knowledge to develop novel biological therapies that combat tumour evolution and to inform how best to use them in combination with other cancer treatments.”
The City of London Centre will gather expertise from each partner institution including specialists in imaging, clinical trials and tumour evolution. Research will span all cancer types, including a focus on childhood cancers. There has been recent progress treating children with immunotherapies and researchers hope to extend this success to even more patients so that everyone, regardless of age or cancer type, can benefit from the latest innovations in treatment.
In addition to accelerating the development of some of the most promising cancer research studies in the capital, the centre will also provide multiple new opportunities for collaboration and training. This is the first time that these leading London institutions have partnered to tackle cancer on such a large scale.
“Cancer won’t be cured by a biologist or a clinician alone,” said Professor Enver. “We need physicists, chemists, engineers and mathematicians – researchers from many different disciplines – to come together to tackle the disease in new and innovative ways. The Cancer Research UK City of London Centre will be a catalyst for this scientific collaboration.”
Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, said: “By collaborating creatively with our university and hospital partners, we will secure the UK’s position as a world-leader in cancer biotherapeutics, bringing enormous benefits to cancer patients and their families.”
Professor Nicholas Lemoine, centre lead at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, said: “This is a hugely exciting time for personalised medicine. With our growing understanding of tumour evolution and the combined capability of our partner universities and hospitals, this new CRUK City of London Centre has the potential to become world-leading in the development of new biological therapies for cancer.”
Professor Peter Parker, centre lead at King’s College London, said: “Biotherapies in the form of immune interventions are revolutionising cancer treatments in some cancer patients. These exceptional accomplishments bring a compelling need to dig deeper into the underlying principles that bring success to these approaches, in order to develop a wider spectrum of interventions that deliver improved outcomes to a much greater population of cancer patients.
“The strategic alignment, concerted training and sharing of resources with our City of London Centre partners is crucial to delivering on this complex agenda, allowing us to exploit collectively the extensive capabilities and pioneering therapeutic approaches that King’s and our City of London Centre partners have fostered over the last 15 years. This initiative is a watershed for cancer patients in London and far beyond.”
* Cancer Research UK’s network of centres bring together leading research teams from universities, NHS hospitals, and other research organisations to combine expertise in different cancer types and initiate new research ideas and programmes. Centre status is awarded to locations performing the highest quality cancer research. Cancer Research UK’s investment helps maintain and develop essential infrastructure, funding for technical staff, equipment, training and running costs.
**The centre will bring together two leaders in academic health sciences, UCL Partners and Kings Health partners. Together, UCL partners cover a total of 26 boroughs in England and serve a population of over six million people. Kings health partners have a patient population of 8 million people in London and the South East.