Accelerate the translation of research: our progress

ACCELERATE THE TRANSLATION OF RESEARCH

We pledged in our strategy to invest in infrastructure and new funding schemes to support translational research, and ensure that the right environment is in place to nurture it.

Combining our commercialisation arm, Cancer Research Technology, with our science funding engine to create the new Research and Innovation division will further support this aim, by enhancing our scope and capability to go from the first funding of a research idea all the way through to a fully developed or commercialised innovation.

We said we would...

Our unique network of CRUK Centres and the jointly funded Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) network, supported by CRUK and the devolved departments of health, provide a rich environment for translational research in the UK. They combine access to the highest calibre of academic research with world-leading clinical expertise – fertile ground for pioneering new cancer treatments and tests.

Both networks were reviewed in late 2016, with CRUK committing £190 million over five years to its network of Centres and Major Centres, the largest investment in the network to date. A joint investment of £36 million over five years was also committed to 18 adult ECMCs and a paediatric ECMC network.

In 2014 we launched the Accelerator Award to provide additional infrastructure support for Centres to build capacity and increase collaboration in areas of strategic priority. We have invested £29 million in eight awards to date, and the scheme is now evolving to include international research partners and their expertise. A new partnership will capitalise on shared priorities across the CRUK Centres network and the Italian and Spanish cancer societies. 

The ECMC network forms the bedrock for some of the most innovative trials in the world, including the National Lung Matrix Trial, TRACERx and the PRECISION-Panc initiative. This experimental medicine capability is further strengthened by the expertise of the CRUK Centre for Drug Development (CDD). As the world’s only charity-funded drug development facility, the CDD’s pioneering research is driven by the goal to see scientific breakthroughs bring benefits to patients sooner. Priorities include: first-in-class therapies, first-in-human clinical trials and projects where pharmacodynamic and stratification biomarker technologies can be used to identify and progress new treatments which have the greatest potential for patient benefit.

Partnership is an overarching principle of our strategy and fundamental to our efforts towards delivering better outcomes for patients. Within this report, we have highlighted examples of collaboration across UK research networks, with international research organisations, other cancer charities and with industry, where we are working together to innovate and build focus in areas of strategic priority.

Examples include our collaboration with Stand Up To Cancer, through which we are funding the Transatlantic Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team, joint funding of multidisciplinary research projects with the EPSRC, and our partnership with the Dutch Cancer Society, through which we are co-funding an international Grand Challenge team.

Partnerships with industry are crucial for us to drive the development of new cancer treatments, and our Stratified Medicine Programme, run with the unparalleled expertise of ECMC technical and clinical hubs, continues to attract new industry partners: Plexxikon, a member of the Daiichi Sankyo Group, recently agreed to bring two new potential lung cancer drugs into the programme and provide additional finance for expansion of the second phase.

Also in precision medicine, we established the S-CORT Stratified Medicine Consortium with the Medical Research Council – a £5 million programme that will use the latest genome-based technology to uncover the complex biology of bowel cancer, to allow the most effective therapies to be delivered to bowel cancer patients. And in partnership with the European Society for Medical Oncology and Unicancer, we launched the Molecular Analysis for Personalised Therapy (MAP) conference in 2015, bringing together researchers for a range of talks and debates on personalising cancer treatment.

We also embarked on a global partnership with the US National Cancer Institute, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Hubrecht Organoid Technology, to generate new models of cancer that more accurately represent human tumours. The aim is to develop 1,000 models that more closely mirror tumour cellular complexity and architecture, using tumour tissue from patients with a variety of cancer types, including rare and paediatric cancers which are often underrepresented. This transformative resource will allow researchers to study aspects such as tumour heterogeneity, disease progression, and mechanisms of drug resistance, and relate these to genomic features of the models – helping to bridge the gap between new developments in the laboratory and effective treatments in the clinic.

Our £20 million Grand Challenge initiative launched in 2015, articulating seven of the most significant challenges in cancer research. The scheme garnered worldwide interest and has galvanised the global research community, stimulating new conversations, new collaborations and new approaches that will accelerate progress.

We had intended to fund one new team every year for five years, to undertake ground-breaking research. However, the exceptional quality of the shortlisted teams and their submissions meant that there were several proposals the panel felt were too important not to fund. Through a combination of a philanthropic donation (the largest private donation ever received by CRUK) and a partnership with the Dutch Cancer Society, we were able to fund four of these remarkable teams. The resulting research commitment in the first round of Grand Challenge funding is up to £71 million over the next five years.

Rick Klausner​The launching of a grand challenge in cancer is nothing short of a call to arms to the entire global community of people that are interested, committed and in many ways desperate to find answers to cancer. I applaud CRUK for bringing us all together and creating a new sense of energy in the global oncology community.

Dr Rick Klausner, Former Director of the National Cancer Institute and Chair of the Grand Challenge Advisory Panel

Tackling global cancer challenges

Grand Challenge was launched with a call to arms to the global research community: seven tough challenges set by an outstanding advisory panel, following input from the international research community, patients and industry.

Researchers worldwide came together in multidisciplinary teams to tackle the challenges – with high-quality applications submitted from across 200 institutes, spanning 25 countries, uniting more than 400 world-class research groups with a true breadth of research specialisms.

We had intended to fund one new team every year for five years, to undertake ground-breaking research. However, the exceptional quality of the shortlisted teams and their submissions meant that there were several proposals the panel felt were too important not to fund. Through a combination of a philanthropic donation (the largest private donation ever received by CRUK) and a partnership with the Dutch Cancer Society, we were able to fund four of these remarkable teams. The resulting research commitment in the first round of Grand Challenge funding is up to £71 million over the next five years.

Grand Challenge has provided opportunity far beyond focusing large-scale resource on the biggest questions in cancer research – it has galvanised the global research community to coalesce around some of the biggest barriers in the field, stimulating new conversations, new collaborations and new approaches that will accelerate progress.

Grand Challenge winning teams

Creating a ‘google earth’ for cancer

Lead PI: Dr Josephine Bunch, National Physical Laboratory

The team will develop a way to combine new and existing technologies to create virtual representations of tumours, and a global database that catalogues their genetic make-up and metabolism, which could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

Collaborators from the USA and multiple UK research centres.

IMAXT: Imaging and molecular annotation of xenografts and tumours

Lead PI: Professor Greg Hannon, CRUK Cambridge Institute

The team will create a virtual reality 3D tumour map which will allow scientists and doctors to examine – for the first time and in unprecedented detail – the cellular and molecular make-up of a patient’s entire tumour to improve diagnosis and treatment for the disease.

Collaborators from Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, the USA and UK.

Mutographs of cancer

Lead PI: Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The team will study cancer samples from five continents to understand the DNA damage associated with different cancers, to understand what causes them and if they can be prevented.

Collaborators from France, the USA and UK.

PRECISION: Prevent Ductal Carcinoma In Situ Invasive Overtreatment Now

Lead PI: Dr Jelle Wesseling, Netherlands Cancer Institute

The team aims to distinguish between those women with DCIS (a condition that can develop into breast cancer) who need treatment and those who don’t, to reduce overtreatment of the condition. Collaborators from the USA, UK and Netherlands.

Research co-funded with the Dutch Cancer Society 

 

The increasing complexity of cancer – its vast array of mutations and ability to evolve and evade therapy – requires an arsenal of innovative therapeutic approaches. In addition to small-molecule drugs, biotherapeutic approaches (monoclonal antibodies, cell therapies and viruses), offer remarkable potential for patients.

In May 2015, to increase our support in this area, we established the Drug Discovery Committee (DDC) to fund and oversee Programme and Project Awards for biotherapeutics and small-molecule cancer drug discovery, from target identification through to early preclinical studies. The DDC also oversees our core-funded Drug Discovery Units (DDUs) and translational research alliances in this area.

To support this committee, a Biotherapeutics Expert Review Panel was established to review applications and make funding recommendations to the DDC for Biotherapeutic Drug Discovery Programme and Project Awards. These awards provide funding to outstanding individuals with an established scientific track record to support the discovery and development of novel biological therapeutic agents. To date we have invested over £7 million in therapeutic areas spanning antibody development, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy and viral therapy.

We have established the CRUK-MedImmune Alliance Laboratory, which brings together CRUK’s cancer biology expertise with the world-class antibody engineering technology of MedImmune, the biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca. The Laboratory collaborates with academic researchers to turn early discovery insights into potential new biological treatments, with scientists from both organisations working side by side in a joint laboratory in Cambridge, to accelerate discovery and development. The Alliance also allows scientists in the UK and overseas access to MedImmune’s human antibody phage display library as well as their extensive expertise in antibody discovery and development.

We have increased trial funding via our Clinical Research Committee (previously Clinical Trial Awards and Advisory Committee) and New Agents Committee to ensure that we can continue to support a broad portfolio of clinical research, from £22.8 million in 2013/14 to £26.7 million in 2016/17.

Our Clinical Research ‘Statement of Intent’ outlined plans to prioritise trials that maximise patient impact, such as those that are biologically rich or have efficient, innovative designs. In 2015, the Clinical Research Committee was established to help deliver this strategy with an expanded remit that now includes biomarker project grants, and additional opportunities to deliver translational work within trials. This includes the Experimental Medicine Award, providing funding in the region of £1–5 million over five years, to allow investigators to address large, high impact translational questions in a clinical setting.

We also maintain our focus in areas where industry interest is low (e.g. surgery and radiotherapy). In particular, this includes continued support for the Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Working Group (CTRad) and associated initiatives such as the Radiotherapy-Drug Combinations Consortium (RaDCom).

Tim MaughanPreviously CRUK funding mechanisms did not have the flexibility, or the scope, to fund major adaptive trial programmes. We are now in a better position to support research in non-drug modalities, such as radiotherapy and surgery, as well as to investigate new approaches like immunotherapy, which are becoming more centre stage.

Professor Tim Maughan, Clinical Director, CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology

​In 2015 we established a Cancer Prevention Initiative in partnership with the Bupa Foundation, overseen by a newly appointed Cancer Prevention Champion, Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Stirling. Professor Bauld is world-renowned for her work in policy development and has conducted seminal studies in smoking cessation and tobacco control, which, building on our successful plain packaging campaign, remains one of our top priorities.

As part of the Cancer Prevention Initiative, we established the Policy Research Centre for Cancer Prevention (PRCP), which commissions and conducts research on lifestyles and behaviours associated with cancer to drive forward policy that can reduce the number of preventable cancers. A workshop hosted by the PRCP in February 2015 brought key leaders in the field of behavioural change and cancer prevention together to develop the centre’s research strategy, identifying two key areas of focus. The first is to look specifically at public attitudes on alcohol and cancer and alcohol policy; modelling the economic impact of policy change; and the role of current marketing practises on youth drinking. The other priority is to look at the risk factors of obesity, diet and physical activity, focusing on public knowledge of the association of these risk factors with cancer and ways to impact these behaviours, such as the impact of a sugary drinks tax.

In addition to the PRCP, the Cancer Prevention Initiative included two new award schemes: the Cancer Prevention Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Cancer Prevention Innovation Grant. We funded three Cancer Prevention Postdoctoral Fellowships through this partnership on topics from promoting behavioural change in primary care to understanding low uptake of HPV vaccinations among ethnic minorities. The awards have now been merged with our Population Research Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme.

The Cancer Prevention Innovation Grant is awarded to teams generating promising ideas at a series of sandpit workshops on different prevention research challenges. To date we have provided seed-funding to 24 teams. Projects range from developing a mobile phone app that encourages inactive adults who are preparing to exercise to notice the emotional benefit they gain from physical activity, to understanding the everyday lives of teenage mothers from their own perspective to identify the barriers, and facilitators, of good health behaviours.

An ongoing collaboration with the US National Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Research Program led to a joint International Cancer Prevention Innovation Grant Workshop in April 2017 focusing on facilitating behavioural research into cancer prevention across different health behaviours. We’ll continue to build greater capacity in these areas through our Population Research Catalyst Award, which supports international, multidisciplinary collaboration in population health with awards of up to £5 million enabling groups to deliver impact over and above what they could do alone.

Prof Linda BauldWe’ve seen reductions in smoking rates thanks to strong research evidence that has informed policy and influenced people’s decisions about their own health. The Cancer Prevention Initiative builds on that success by uniting scientists and policy-makers with the expertise to tackle other important behavioural factors linked to cancer.

Professor Linda Bauld, CRUK Cancer Prevention Champion and Professor of Health Policy, University of Stirling

 

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