The Royal Marsden and ICR receive a global award for transforming breast cancer treatment

A team working together across different areas of cancer research from The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research has won one of the world’s most prestigious team science awards for work that has transformed treatment for many patients with breast cancer.

Professor Stephen Johnston sitting at desk
Professor Stephen Johnston, member of the winning team

The researchers at The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, were named winners of the Team Science Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

The AACR recognised the team’s “seminal translational discoveries in breast cancer research that have led to significant improvements in diagnosis and treatment”. They noted that the team “has led the discovery of new therapeutic approaches and the biomarkers that identify the populations of patients that gain most benefit from them”.

The team was recognised for achievements that include: 

  • The discovery of new therapeutic approaches, such as PARP inhibitors, that have changed how patients with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutant breast cancers are tested and treated
  • Discoveries that have led to improvements in how oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancers are treated
  • Discoveries of ways to test, using predictive biomarkers, that have informed which treatments are selected, how they can be de-escalated or adapted according to evidence of response or resistance
  • Leading work that has fundamentally changed international guidelines for the number of radiotherapy doses used that reduces the length of the course of treatment
  • The discovery of molecular changes in breast cancer that cause metastatic colonisation, resistance to cell death but also vulnerability to targeted therapy

The bench-to-bedside team is made up of researchers and clinicians at The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity funded Ralph Lauren Centre for Breast Cancer Research, The Royal Marsden’s Breast Unit, the ICR’s Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit and Toby Robins Research Centre. The Royal Marsden’s research was supported by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre.

Professor Stephen Johnston, Head of the The Breast Unit at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“We are delighted that two global clinical trials in early breast cancer led by The Royal Marsden and ICR team have recently resulted in newly approved targeted treatments that are set to improve outcomes for breast cancer worldwide. Both trials represent a culmination of many years of scientific and clinical research by the team into understanding breast cancer biology, together with partnership collaborations that develop new therapies to evaluate in clinical trials. The close working relationship between our scientists and clinicians facilitates this effort and allows advances from basic research to reach patients quickly. By targeting the right treatment to the right patient at the right time we will ultimately deliver better and more effective care.”

Professor David Cunningham, Director of Clinical Research at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“The Team Science Award is credit to the outstanding innovative work undertaken by The Royal Marsden and the ICR for the benefit of not only Royal Marsden cancer patients but patients worldwide. Our collaborative work speeds up translational work to ensure cancer patients receive the most effective targeted treatments, offering more promising outcomes.”

The team has made major contributions to the development of PARP inhibitors and platinum chemotherapy for genetic forms of breast cancer, played a leading role in the clinical development of aromatase inhibitors for ER+ breast cancer, generated the clinical evidence to justify using liquid biopsies to direct treatment and demonstrated how patients can be treated with fewer radiotherapy doses and identified a group who can do well without chemotherapy.

It has also developed new ways to study advanced breast cancer using metastasis laboratory models – improving our understanding of how breast cancer spreads and how we might treat that spread – advanced our knowledge of how breast cancer can resist cell death, and found new ways to make the disease vulnerable to targeted treatments.

Progress in breast cancer research at The Royal Marsden and the ICR has its foundations in bringing expertise together from many academic research areas, spanning laboratory bench to hospital bedside, and back again, and forming large multidisciplinary teams.

The AACR and Eli Lilly and Company established the Team Science Award in 2007 to acknowledge and catalyse the growing importance of interdisciplinary teams to the understanding of cancer and the translation of research discoveries into clinical cancer applications.

The award recognises an outstanding interdisciplinary research team for innovative science that may have advanced our fundamental knowledge of cancer, or for applying existing knowledge to advancing the detection, diagnosis, prevention or treatment of cancer.

By targeting the right treatment to the right patient at the right time we will ultimately deliver better and more effective care.”

Professor Stephen Johnston

The recognition comes 10 years after a joint team from The Royal Marsden and the ICR first won the award in 2012, which was the first time the award had gone to a team outside the US.

Professor Andrew Tutt, Head of the Division of Breast Cancer Research at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and the Award Team Leader, said:

“It is a really great honour to receive this award from the AACR and we’re so grateful to receive it. It’s an endorsement of our strong, collaborative approach, where laboratory scientists and clinical academics work closely across the ICR and The Royal Marsden to understand the needs of patients, make discoveries to address them in the lab and turn them into improvements in treatment in the clinic through clinical trials research.

“It’s been hugely motivating over the years to see how our progress, working with colleagues in the US and around the world, has made such a difference in treating breast cancer. We’re proud to be recognised like this and we will continue to build on this work so even more patients can benefit in the future.”

Professor Judith Bliss, Head of the Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“The close collaboration that goes on between breast cancer researchers working at the ICR and The Royal Marsden has been incredibly productive in making discoveries that are translated into improving the lives of patients. There are teams behind the individuals within the team recognised here – it takes a lot of people to make a difference. It’s fantastic to be recognised for the teamwork that’s so central to how we work.”

The members of the winning team are Professor Alan Ashworth, Professor Judith Bliss, Professor Mitch Dowsett, Professor Clare Isacke, Professor Stephen Johnston, Professor Chris Lord, Professor Pascal Meier, Dr Alistair Ring, Professor Ian Smith, Professor Nicholas Turner, Professor Andrew Tutt, and Professor John Yarnold.