Professor Kevin Harrington specialises in developing new treatments using biologically targeted agents (such as viruses, antibodies and small molecules) that selectively destroy cancer cells. He is Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research and an honorary consultant oncologist at The Royal Marsden. Professor Harrington was appointed as Joint Head of the ICR’s Division of Radiotherapy and Imaging in 2013.
Professor Harrington studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and began focusing on head and neck cancer while a PhD student at Hammersmith Hospital. He completed postdoctoral research in molecular medicine at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, before joining the ICR in 2001 as Team Leader in Targeted Therapy within the Section of Cell and Molecular Biology.
He is currently working with a range of viruses (reovirus, herpes simplex virus, vaccinia virus, coxsackie A21 virus) that are able to grow in – and kill – cancerous, but not normal, cells. Some of these so-called oncolytic viruses have naturally evolved to grow preferentially in cancer cells because of the cells’ specific genetic defects, while others have been genetically engineered to grow selectively in cancer cells. Professor Harrington hopes new treatments using these viruses will improve patients’ cure rates and have fewer side-effects than current therapies.
The virus therapies under development are generally given in combination with standard anti-cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Professor Harrington’s research has shown that some viruses can make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation, while the radiation may also boost the effect of some viruses on cancer cells.
Much of Professor Harrington’s laboratory work is immediately translated into clinical trials at The Royal Marsden, most often in patients with head and neck cancers, and melanomas. Professor Harrington says the ICR’s partnership with The Royal Marsden allows him to conduct innovative laboratory research and apply it in the clinical setting, achieving “real patient benefit”.
In his infrequent spare time, he enjoys gardening, playing and watching football, and reading.