Cancer Research UK and its European partners, Fondazione AIRC and Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC), will invest £27.4 million into seven new international projects to accelerate lifesaving cancer research, announced today (Friday).
The Cancer Research UK Accelerator Awards programme, which provides five years of funding for international projects, reflects a longstanding link between the UK and Europe, working together to drive progress for people affected by cancer.
The successful teams will develop new research tools, resources and infrastructure to improve scientists’ understanding of cancer, including rare and hard-to-treat cancers, helping to find better ways to treat them. Projects include investigating how to best combine radiotherapy with the latest immunotherapies, and refocussing research efforts on mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer, cases of which continue to rise globally.*
Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “If current trends continue, the world will see a 60% increase in cancer cases over the next two decades. Cancer is a global problem and no one country can tackle it alone.
“Now the UK has left the European Union, the need to retain collaborative cancer research between the EU and the UK has never been greater. This partnership will also strengthen UK cancer research by the sharing of expertise, new technologies and research talent.”
Professor Paul French, a physicist based at Imperial College London, will lead one of the projects to improve the way we develop and test anti-cancer drugs in the lab.
Traditionally, drug discovery research has used thin ‘2D’ layers of cells that can be easily controlled and imaged on conventional microscopes. However, such simplified disease models don’t adequately represent the complex 3D cancer environment within the body.
Professor French said: “The complexity of cancer is beyond our current understanding and existing therapies. By developing technology to investigate more sophisticated 3D cancer models, which allow us to explore how drugs work on tumour cells interacting with their local environment, we could find new ways to overcome challenges like drug resistance.”
Professor Kevin Blyth, a clinician scientist based at the University of Glasgow, will lead another of the projects, focussed on finding better treatments for mesothelioma, a hard-to-treat asbestos related cancer that most commonly starts in the layers of tissue that cover each lung.
Professor Blyth said: “It’s been difficult to build a network of scientists, with enough cases of the disease to build a thorough understanding of how to best treat mesothelioma. And this has left people with the disease very few treatment options.
“In the future it’s likely that the global incidence of mesothelioma will continue to increase, as there are many countries that still don’t regulate the use of asbestos. So, it’s important to build a research community now and improve our understanding to help those affected by this cancer.”
The Accelerator Awards bring together world-class researchers who would not previously have been able to work together, without the unique structure of this grant scheme. Each collaboration aims to deepen the research community’s understanding of cancer and bring people with cancer closer to new treatments, making use of the expertise and diverse technologies of different partner organisations.
Ignacio Muñoz Pidal, president of the AECC, said: “The AECC believes international collaboration is essential to accelerate cancer research. The Accelerator Awards allow European researchers to not only receive five years of funding, but also enables them access to an international collaborative platform where they can share knowledge and data.”
Professor Federico Caligaris Cappio, scientific director of Fondazione AIRC, said: “Rare tumours are individually of little interest to drug developers and are difficult to study because patients are few. For this reason, the knowledge we have of many of these cancers is fairly basic.
“For research to be as effective as possible, it is necessary to bring together expertise from several countries. This is one of the strengths of the Accelerator Awards that sees Fondazione AIRC, Cancer Research UK and AECC come together. Supporting research projects that are aimed at accelerating skills and seeking new and more effective therapeutic solutions.”
The next round of the Accelerator Awards will open on 2 March for international research groups.
*The purpose of the Accelerator Awards is to enable progress in translational cancer research through the development of tools, platforms and skills that form the foundations of such research. The successful projects from this round are:
- Professor Paul French based at Imperial College London and his team will work to more fully exploit the potential of new 3D cancer models by developing high content analysis platforms to image 3D cell cultures and organoids with single cell resolution. Co-investigators are based at The Francis Crick Institute, University of Edinburgh, The Institute of Cancer Research, London and Instituto de Recerca Biomedica.
- Professor Kevin Blyth based at the University of Glasgow will lead a project looking at how mesothelioma develops and if this will reveal new targets for treatments. Incidence of this disease is set to rise globally so there is an urgent need for better treatment options. Co-investigators are based at NHS Glasgow, North Bristol NHS Trust, UCL, University of Oxford, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, MRC Toxicology Unit, University of Bristol, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, University of Cambridge, Universita Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Instituto de investigación Oncologica de Vall d ́Hebron, Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, University Hospital Antwerp and Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute.
- Professor Caroline Dive at the University of Manchester and her team will test new digital data collection methods within phase I medical trials. They will aim to provide clinical investigators and sponsors across the network of experimental cancer medicine centres in Spain, Italy and the UK near-real time access to patient data to better inform and drive clinical decision making. Co-investigators include Instituto de investigación Oncologica de Vall d’Hebron, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and Fondazione IRCCS – Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori – Milano.
- Dr Alberto Orfao at Centro de Investigación del Cáncer de Salamanca will lead a project that will develop a unique research platform to facilitate access to new resources and tools that are essential for the early diagnosis of B-cell leukaemia. The team hope to identify prospective markers that could be screened for, in people at risk. Co-investigators are based at University of Southampton, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Universita Vita-Salute San Raffaele and Fondazione Centre San Raffaele.
- Dr Ignacio Melero at Fundación para la Investigación Médica Aplicada will lead a team to test the combination of immunotherapy injections and radiotherapy in mice. They hope the radiotherapy will help awaken an immune response against cancer. Co-investigators include University of Manchester, UCL, Complutense University of Madrid, Clinica Universitaria de Navarra, Istituto Nazionale Dei Tumori and University of Palermo.
- Dr Robin Jones at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Institute of Cancer Research, London will lead a project investigating high-risk sarcomas. The team are aiming to produce a standardised data platform that can be used to predict drug response and develop biomarkers for the disease. Co-investigators are based at University of Birmingham, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, University of Edinburgh, Fondazione IRCCS – Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori – Milano and Instituto de Biomedicina de Sevilla.
- Dr Marcello Deraco at Fondazione IRCCS – Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori – Milano will build a tissue bank and gather genomic, transcriptomic and clinical data of Pseudomyxoma peritonei, a very rare type of cancer that usually begins in the appendix and can spread to the abdomen, filling it with a jelly like fluid. The team are aiming to find new targets for drug development. Co-investigators at Fondazione Edo ed Elvo Tempia, University of Manchester, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, University of Torino, Candiolo Cancer Institute, Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and Consorci Sanitari Integral – Hospital Sant Joan Despì, Moises Broggi.
One existing project received renewed funding:
- Professor Caroline Dive at the University of Manchester and Professor Charles Swanton at UCL will continue to jointly lead the Cancer Research UK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence. The centre tackles lung cancer research from all angles, from basic biology through to clinical trials. The research is focused around eight complementary and interacting themes: Basic Science, Immunology, Drug Discovery, Early Detection and Pre-Invasive Disease, Tumour Evolution and Heterogeneity, Biomarkers, Clinical Trials and Radiation Biology/Radiotherapy Trials. Co-investigators are based at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, Manchester Foundation Trust, Manchester Cancer Research Centre, UCL Cancer Institute, UCLH Macmillan Cancer Centre and UCLPartners.