A ‘rule book’ to guide precision combination immunotherapies and to speed up the development of new lung cancer treatments will be created as part of a collaboration between Cancer Research UK, the Francis Crick Institute and Bristol-Myers Squibb, announced today.
The new £2.4 million research project called RUBICON – a rule book and immune atlas for combination therapy – will map out the immunology of lung cancer in detail.
The study will be led by Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician and Francis Crick Institute group leader, Professor Charles Swanton. He said: “Biological therapies, including immunotherapies are set to transform the way we treat patients and the RUBICON study will bring us a step closer to this vision.
“When we see patients with hard-to-treat cancers like lung, we struggle to keep up with the speed at which tumours evolve, become aggressive and resistant to treatment. Our research so far has uncovered many of cancer’s evolutionary secrets, opening opportunities for us to develop new and targeted biological therapies, and understand how they can be combined to maximum effect.
“By learning more about immune suppressive cell types – the molecules they express and how stable they are during disease evolution – we hope researchers can start to develop molecularly targeted immunotherapy combination strategies.”
The innovative project builds on Cancer Research UK’s strategic investment in lung cancer, enhancing our understanding of cancer evolution through tumour samples and data prospectively gathered and analysed as part of the TRACERx* and PEACE** studies, led by Professor Swanton and his team at the Cancer Research UK-Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence at UCL.
Multidisciplinary researchers at the Francis Crick Institute will use state of the art technologies, including deep learning and artificial intelligence tools, to analyse tumour samples and data from TRACERx and PEACE. This will allow them to map an atlas of immune cell activity across distinct tumour regions, and to understand how the incredibly complex tumour immune microenvironment evolves and develops over time.
Veronique Birault, head of translation at the Francis Crick Institute, said: “This project is a fantastic example of the industry and charity sectors working together to support world-class discovery science for the benefit of patients. The project wouldn’t be possible without Cancer Research UK’s significant investment in research, amplified by the complementary expertise of three different cancer labs collaborating at the Crick. This new funding will allow our scientists to map out the immune landscape around lung tumours to develop better combination therapies for patients.”
Dr Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said: “We’re pleased to bring together these partners of industry and academia to advance this ambitious study. As we delve ever deeper into the tumour microenvironment, we can equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge to take the next steps toward truly personalised cancer treatments.
“Lung cancer is a disease for which there has been very little improvement in patient survival over the last 40 years. We look forward to seeing how new treatment combinations that arise from this study could make a real difference for these patients.”
Bristol-Myers Squibb will provide £2.4 million in funding for the RUBICON project.
“Bristol-Myers Squibb is proud to be part of this innovative research initiative. We look for first-class science everywhere and we know that continued progress in cancer can only happen through strong collaboration with scientists, academic researchers, clinicians and patients who participated in clinical trials,” said Tom Lynch, M.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, Bristol-Myers Squibb.
“The UK has a strong heritage in cutting edge research and, through this RUBICON project, we believe further progress will be made for lung cancer patients across the world.”
*TRACERx (Tracking Cancer Evolution through therapy (Rx)) is the single biggest investment in lung cancer research by Cancer Research UK. Taking place over nine years, the translational research programme is the first study to look at the evolution of cancer in real time and immense detail. Researchers follow patients with lung cancer all the way from diagnosis through to either disease relapse or cure after surgery, tracking and analysing how their cancer develops. TRACERx is led by UCL (University College London) via the Cancer Research UK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence and also supported by the National Institute for Health Research, University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre, Francis Crick Institute and the Rosetrees Trust.
**The Cancer Research UK funded PEACE (Posthumous Evaluation of Advanced Cancer Environment) study, led by UCL via the Cancer Research UK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence, is the UK’s first ever national study collecting blood and tissue samples from patients who have died from cancer, to enable research to shed light on what happens during the final stages of the disease.