Main Menu

Our discoveries

The Institute of Cancer Research has an outstanding record of scientific achievement dating back more than 100 years. Here are some of the ICR’s most influential discoveries, all of which have played an important role in shaping our modern understanding of cancer and how it can be treated.

  • Carcinogens in cigarette smoke
    We identified many of the cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke and coal tar – including the first pure carcinogen ever to be isolated.
    Find out more
  • Discovering early chemotherapy drugs
    We were the first in Europe to develop chemotherapeutic agents.  We discovered, and with The Royal Marsden, developed the chemotherapy drugs busulfan, chlorambucil, melphalan and carboplatin, which are still in use worldwide more than 50 years later.
    Find out more
  • DNA damage and cancer
    We provided the first conclusive evidence that the basic cause of cancer is damage to DNA. This discovery changed scientific opinion dramatically and marked a turning point in the field of cancer research. Up to that point, proteins had widely been thought to be the site of action for carcinogens.
    Find out more

  • The function of the thymus
    We discovered the function of the thymus and made key findings on the function of the two main subsets of lymphocytes, T cells and B cells. This was the fundamental basis for modern immunology and cancer immunotherapy.
    Find out more

  • How cells become cancerous
    We played a major role in revealing the biochemical steps of the RAS-RAF-MAP kinase pathway. We identified one of the major mechanisms by which RAS oncogenes cause normal cells to become cancerous and provided new targets for cancer therapeutics.
    Find out more

  • Identifying a breast cancer gene
    We identified the breast cancer gene BRCA2, which enabled families with a history of breast cancer to be assessed for future risk, and laid the groundwork for developing novel forms of therapy for BRCA-associated cancers.
    Find out more
  • Advanced radiotherapy techniques
    We have made a number of major contributions to modern high-precision radiotherapy techniques, such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT). These target radiation doses precisely to the shape of tumours, increasing the effectiveness of treatment and reducing toxicity and side-effects.
    Find out more
  • Transforming prostate cancer treatment
    We transformed care for advanced prostate cancer, by validating inhibitors of androgen production as an effective cancer treatment, and discovering and developing abiraterone, a life-extending prostate cancer drug.
    Find out more
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to use this website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies on your device as described in our cookie policy. You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.