Making the discoveries: our strategy to defeat cancer

The Royal Marsden and Institute of Cancer Research's new joint research strategy is an exciting roadmap leading towards overcoming the evolution and complexity of cancer.

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden have developed a new strategy called 'Making the discoveries: our strategy to defeat cancer', which you can read here or below.

The strategy explains how powerful ‘big data’ analysis can identify game-changing new cancer treatment, allowing our researchers to design state-of-the-art clinical trials to determine the best ways of combining new anti-evolution therapies for patients.

What is the strategy about?

Cancers evolve and adapt much as animals and plants do in response to changes in the environment, or bacteria does when it becomes resistant to antibiotics. Patients may initially respond to cancer treatment, but they often then relapse as their disease evolves and becomes resistant.

This is the first major research strategy to place at its heart the need to overcome cancer evolution and drug resistance. Key elements of the new approach to outsmarting cancer include:

  • predicting the path of cancer evolution from a single tumour sample, so doctors can see and counteract cancer’s next move
  • creating brand-new types of cancer drug that block the whole process of cancer evolution
  • directing patients’ immune systems to evolve in response to changes in the cancer
  • blocking off cancer’s escape routes by adapting therapy to evolutionary changes or treating patients with scientifically selected drug combinations
  • tracking the movement of tumours in patients’ bodies with high-tech imaging and state-of-the-art radiotherapy

The strategy also sets a series of challenging targets for progress against cancer. The ICR commits to discovering seven new cancer drugs in the next five years, an increase of 40% on its current rate. It will aim that one of these should be targeted against an evolutionary mechanism, one should be a new immunotherapy, and two should hit challenging targets that have so far defied the efforts of researchers.

The ICR and The Royal Marsden also pledge to deliver practice-changing clinical trial evidence of the benefits of cancer treatment, including treating patients in clinical trials using the MR Linac – the world’s most advanced radiotherapy machine.

Professor David Cunningham, Director of Clinical Research at The Royal Marsden and the ICR, said: “As the only NIHR Biomedical Research Centre dedicated solely to cancer, our mission is to translate the advances in discovery science into real benefits for cancer patients, and to continue to influence and change patient care on a global scale.

“The complexity of cancer is a constant challenge to not only developing effective treatments, but also those which bring our patients a good quality of life, with fewer side-effects. Our new strategy utilises an ambitious, patient-centred approach that recognises the complexity of cancer and will use 21st-century tools to develop smarter, kinder treatments for both adult and paediatric patients, covering targeted clinical trials, precision imaging and radiotherapy, and new forms of surgery.

“By developing innovative treatments, diagnostics and strategies for prevention, we can deliver better outcomes and improved quality of life for patients at The Royal Marsden, across the UK and around the world.”

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of the ICR, said: “Cancer evolution is the single biggest challenge we face in creating better treatments for patients. We have seen some great advances against cancer, but so often we find that the disease evolves, becoming ever more complex and genetically diverse, and finds ways to resist the effects of therapy.

“With such a major, enduring, complex challenge, we need a concerted effort to shift our approach to cancer research, and to focus pretty much everything we do on anticipating, outpacing and overcoming cancer evolution. Our new joint research strategy fires the starting gun on a race against cancer evolution, as we aim to predict the disease’s behaviour in order to stay one step ahead.

“The ICR already leads the world in discovering new cancer drugs, and together with The Royal Marsden has pioneered advances in precision radiotherapy. We believe that by focusing relentlessly on cancer’s complexity and evolution, we can create a new generation of anti-evolution treatments that deliver even greater benefits for patients.”

Our new strategy utilises an ambitious, patient-centred approach that recognises the complexity of cancer and will use 21st-century tools to develop smarter, kinder treatments for both adult and paediatric patients.

Professor David Cunningham, Director of Clinical Research at The Royal Marsden and the ICR