Researchers announce aim to double cancer survival in a decade

A five-year research strategy aiming to 'unravel cancer's ecosystem' has been launched by The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

CMP research staff Alan Pak Lun Lau wearing glasses and white lab coat in laboratory with research equipment

Researchers from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, believe it is possible to double the survival of people with advanced cancer within a decade. 

World-leading experts from the two organisations said that, as we increasingly gain knowledge about the ‘cancer ecosystem’, pioneering research will mean more people get cured while others live far longer.

The researchers came together as The Royal Marsden and the ICR launched a joint five-year research strategy which aims to unravel cancer’s ecosystem, diagnose cancer better and earlier, target cancer’s weaknesses and treat cancer more precisely. 

The cancer ecosystem is the complex system which allows cancer cells to thrive. It is made up of cancer cells, the immune system and those molecules, cells and structures that surround tumours and help them grow.

Exploring new ways of combining existing cancer treatments

Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: 

“Our leading scientists and clinicians have identified cancer’s evolution within a complex ecosystem as a major challenge and opportunity for the next five years.

“We have created a really exciting plan to unravel and disrupt cancer’s ecosystems, with new immunotherapies, drugs to target the tissue environment, and clever new anti-evolution combinations and dosing strategies.

“Research has been a driver for remarkable improvements in treatments in recent decades, but we believe we can go even further and eradicate some cancers by targeting the ecosystems required for their growth, or tipping the balance in favour of the immune system. We’re also confident that through the use of artificial intelligence in combination with detailed biological insights, we can find ways of combining existing treatments to control cancer’s evolution within its ecosystem and significantly increase the overall survival of cancer patients.”

Revolutionary treatments bring new hope for people with advanced cancers

Professor Kevin Harrington, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Professor of Biological Cancer Therapeutics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“Immunotherapy has begun to revolutionise treatment for some cancer patients – we’re even starting to see cures in people with advanced disease who, until recently, were destined to die of their cancers. But unfortunately, immunotherapy doesn’t work for all patients or all cancer types, and we need to do much better both at predicting whether it will work, and increasing the effectiveness of treatment. 

“We believe that there are huge opportunities to use combinations of immunotherapy and other treatments like radiotherapy to disrupt cancer’s ecosystem. We are aiming to tilt the balance in favour of the immune system and make the environment inhospitable to cancer cells and favourable for elements of the immune system that can attack them, so that we can make the disease extinct within the body.

"We’re even using viruses to accurately target cancer cells and draw a powerful immune response to them. We think the reward will be immunotherapy that works for many more patients, and that increasingly gives even those with advanced cancer the hope of a cure.”

Finding better ways of detecting cancer is critical to survival

Dr Naureen Starling, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Reader at The Institute of Cancer Research, London:

“Many cancers are difficult to detect, often because they are deep in the body or do not become symptomatic until they’re at a late stage. Yet, the earlier cancer is detected, the more possible and effective treatment is likely to be with a greater the chance of survival. This means finding better and faster ways to detect and diagnose the disease is critical.

"To tackle this challenge, we are pioneering research into improved screening approaches, biomarker testing to identify individual risk as well as innovative diagnostic tools. For example, we are currently using liquid biopsies – blood tests which can identify genetic information shed by the tumour - to personalise treatment and identify recurrence earlier.

"However, we believe this technology also has the potential to transform cancer diagnosis, particularly for traditionally hard-to-detect tumour types like pancreatic, so could lead to rapid improvements in patient outcomes.”

We plan to find new lines of attack against cancer

Dr Olivia Rossanese, Director of Cancer Drug Discovery at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“Newer, more personalised treatments are helping people with cancer to live well for longer, but some types of the disease remain very difficult to treat, and once cancer has spread it is still often incurable. 

“We plan to open up completely new lines of attack against cancer, so we can overcome cancer’s deadly ability to evolve and become resistant to treatment. We want to discover better targets within tumours and the wider ecosystem that we can attack with drugs. We’re finding powerful new ways to eradicate cancer proteins completely and discovering smarter combination treatments that attack cancer on multiple fronts. Together, this three-pronged approach can create smarter, kinder cancer treatments, and offer patients longer life with fewer side effects.”

The two organisations will carry out world-class research with the aim of building ever closer connections between the ICR’s discovery science to unravel the genetic and molecular basis of cancer, the cancer ecosystem, translational research to diagnose and target cancer more effectively, and clinical studies in partnership with The Royal Marsden to build evidence for advances in patient care.