Grand Challenge

Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge is the most ambitious cancer research grant in the world - a series of £20m awards seeking international, multidisciplinary teams willing to take on the toughest challenges in cancer - providing the freedom to try novel approaches, at scale, in the pursuit of life changing discoveries.

In the first round thanks to the generous support of partners and donors we funded four international, multidisciplinary teams, each up to £20m.

In 2017 an independent advisory panel set eight new Grand Challenges inviting the world's top scientists to come together to propose novel ways to tackle them.

We received 134 applications spanning 41 countries and have now shortlisted ten multidisciplinary, international teams who will work up their applications for interview later this year.

12 Oct 2017

Express Interest

Collaborators open their application outlining their proposed team and approach

Feb 2018


Expressions of interest are reviewed and selected teams receive seed-funding to develop full applications

May 2018

Full Application

Shortlisted teams submit full applications and are interviewed by the independent advisory panel

Jan 2019


Winning teams awarded up to £20 million over 5 years to conduct their pioneering research

Late 2019


New inputs are sought to help inform the next round of Grand Challenge

Round 2 shortlisted teams

We received 134 applications spanning 41 countries and have shortlisted ten multidisciplinary, international teams. The teams will now use £30,000 seed funding to work up their applications for interview later this year.

Uncovering how obesity causes cancer

Lead: Dr Meritxell Huch 
Grand Challenge: Cancer Causes 
Countries: Austria, The Netherlands, UK and USA

Dr Huch's team want to investigate what’s happening inside our cells when they are exposed to too much fat, and how that can lead to cancer. 

This team is made up of biologists, clinicians, geneticists, pathologists and physicists 

Unravelling how chronic inflammation causes cancer

Lead: Professor Rong Li 
Grand Challenge: Cancer Causes 
Countries: UK and USA

Professor Li's team want to scrutinise people’s DNA in supreme detail to find out how inflammation can damage or alter a cell’s chromosomes, and then define how this can lead to cancer.  

​​This team is made up of of biologists, bioengineers, geneticists and epidemiologists. 

A new way to tackle inflammation-associated cancer

Lead: Professor Thea Tlsty
Grand Challenge: Cancer Causes 
Countries: Canada, Israel, UK and USA

Professor Tlsty's team want to find novel ways of treating cancer that has been caused by inflammation, and develop new options to prevent cancer developing in high-risk patients with chronic inflammatory diseases. 

This team is made up of pathologists, system biologists, bioengineers, gastroenterologists, microbiologists, immunologists and biologists.  


Looking out for cancer

Lead: Professor Sara Faithfull 
Grand Challenge: Artificial Intelligence 
Countries: The Netherlands and UK  

Professor Sara Faithfull's team want to analyse people’s consumer and behavioural habits for clues that might indicate if a person has cancer and to address the ethical and privacy issues of accessing personal data. 

This team is made up of physicists, clinical innovators, data scientists, health policy experts, clinical oncologist, academic lawyers and health informaticians


Mining medical records for early signs of cancer

Lead: Professor Henk van Weert 
Grand Challenge: Artificial Intelligence 
Countries: Denmark, The Netherlands and UK

Professor van Weert's team want to use machine-learning technology to mine electronic health records and public databases for clues that could help GPs identify patients that are showing early signs of cancer. 

This team is made up of GPs, informaticians, epidemiologists, psychologists and neuroscientists.


Eliminating sleeping cancer cells

Lead: Professor Peter Croucher 
Grand Challenge: Dormancy 
Countries: Australia, Israel, UK and USA 

Professor Croucher's team want to create a map of the biological environment around dormant cancer cells and the processes that control them, so that treatments can be developed to stop cancer returning.  

This team is made up of biologists, immunologists, geneticists, haematologists and epigeneticists. 

Eradicating tumours with personalised cancer vaccines

Lead: Professor Lindy Durrant
Grand Challenge: Tumour Vaccinology
Countries: Germany, The Netherlands, UK and USA 

Professor Durrant's team want to build vaccine templates for how to treat different cancers, with the hope that eventually cancer patients will be offered a vaccine that is specifically designed for their unique tumour. 

This team is made up of immunologists, surgeons, neuroimmunologists, biologists and clinicians. 

Dissecting the tissue specificity of cancer drivers

Lead: Professor Stephen Elledge 
Grand Challenge: Tissue Specificity
Countries: The Netherlands and USA

Professor Elledge's team want to generate a comprehensive map of cancer drivers and their specificity to different tissues. This has the potential to improve our basic understanding of cancer, and provide information that will impact therapeutic choices for patients.

This team is made up of geneticists, clinicians and bioinformaticians. 

Working smarter, not harder: improving treatment combinations

Lead: Professor Jean-Pascal Machiels and Dr Anthony Kong
Grand Challenge: Treatment Regimens
Countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and UK

Professor Jean-Pascal Machiels and Dr Anthony Kong's team want to use artificial intelligence and computer modelling to determine the optimum treatment combination for each individual patient, transforming outcomes on a global scale.

This team is made up of clinicians, bioinformaticians, biologists, immunologists and mathematicians. 


Bugs, guts & cells: beating gastrointestinal cancer

Lead: Professor Matthew Meyerson and Wendy Garrett
Grand Challenge: Microbiota 
Countries: Canada, The Netherlands, Spain, UK and USA 

Professor Meyerson's team want to discover exactly how certain microbes inside the body lead to cancer development and influence a patient’s response to treatment.  

This team is made up of genomicists, microbiologists, geneticists, immunologists, biologists, epidemiologists and pathologists. 


Meet the teams currently receiving funding 

In 2017, with the generous support of our donors and The Dutch Cancer Society, four Grand Challenge teams were funded – each receiving up to £20m to take on some of the toughest challenges in cancer research.

In January 2019 the next round of funded teams will be announced. Until then, check out the projects that are currently recieving funding. 




Get in touch

lucy shaw

To discuss our Grand Challenge initiative please contact

Dr Lucy Shaw

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