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Discovering new cancer treatments

One of our main priorities at The Institute of Cancer Research is to apply our knowledge of cancer genetics and tumour biology to the discovery of new cancer treatments. Traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy have been very effective in some patients, but they are not personalised for individual patients or their cancers. Instead, they offer a blanket treatment that benefits some patients but not others, and that can have serious side-effects by damaging healthy tissue as well as tumours.

A scientist at work

It is our aim at the ICR to improve on these traditional treatments by targeting specific molecular weaknesses of cancers, and by personalising treatments to an individual patient and their tumour.

We aim to discover new drugs that block molecular targets in cancer identified through our work on genetics and tumour biology. Often these drugs will block molecules involved in promoting the growth or spread of cancers. Sometimes they will take advantage of weaknesses in cancer cells where genetic mutations have left them abnormally reliant on certain cellular molecules for their survival. The ICR is the most successful academic centre in the world at discovering new cancer drugs, and since 2005 has developed 20 preclinical drug candidates, and taken nine new drugs into clinical trials. One of those was abiraterone, approved by NICE in 2012 to treat advanced prostate cancer.

We are also applying an understanding of tumour biology to new techniques for imaging and radiotherapy to further improve cancer treatment. Imaging is increasingly being used as an essential tool to help discover new cancer treatments, for example to assess the effectiveness of targeted cancer treatments in the body. Not only can imaging be used to accurately assess the size and shape of a tumour, it can also be used to give researchers detailed information about a tumour’s diversity and its metabolic state.

Radiotherapy is a successful treatment for many types of cancer, and our researchers aim to make it even more effective, by finding sophisticated ways to focus radiation beams specifically on tumours. They are also interested in ways of combining radiotherapy with other treatments – including targeted drugs or viral therapies. This links with our work in an exciting new area of cancer research, exploring how some cancer treatments, such as viruses, can stimulate the immune system and direct it to attack tumours.

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