Division of Cancer Therapeutics
Head of Division: Professor Paul Workman
Deputy Head of Division: Professor Julian Blagg
Our major interest is the discovery and development of novel and effective therapeutics for the treatment of cancer. Our vision is to exploit the addictions, dependencies and vulnerabilities of cancer cells in order to discover innovative small molecule drugs, and essential biomarkers, that will constitute the personalised cancer medicine of the future. We have a strong internal drug discovery programme and we also work closely with pharmaceutical partners.
The Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit is the largest academic cancer drug discovery and development group worldwide. Its research strategy is to target the molecular and micro-environmental differences between cancer and normal tissues in the expectation that this will deliver drugs that are highly effective and well tolerated for use in personalised treatment. Comprising 12 research teams, the Unit covers all aspects of new drug discovery and development from cell and molecular biology, molecular pharmacology, tumour modelling, computational biology, hit discovery, structural biology and medicinal chemistry, through to preclinical and clinical evaluation of new agents.
The Cancer Therapeutics Unit has discovered 16 preclinical drug candidates since 2005. Six of our compounds have recently entered clinical trial in the Drug Development Unit, a Phase I clinical facility housed in Oak Ward at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundations Trust’s Sutton site, which runs biomarker-driven and hypothesis-testing early clinical trials. The Drug Development Unit sees over 500 patients per year for new drug treatment, and with over 20 open trials at any one time it is one of the largest such units in the world. The CYP17 inhibitor abiraterone, designed and synthesised in the Cancer Therapeutics Unit and initially trialled in the Drug Development Unit was approved for late stage prostate cancer in North America and Europe in 2011.
The research output of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and the Drug Development Unit has recently been recognised the receipt of the American Association for Cancer Research’s 6th Team Science Award 2012. The AACR citation for this prestigious Award said: “This team’s research is an outstanding example of how innovative cancer research conducted by a highly functioning translational team can start with biologic hypotheses and ultimately lead to much-needed cancer therapeutics.” The Award citation also highlighted "the Team’s discovery of 16 therapeutic drug candidates over the past six years. Six of these candidate drugs, which include highly innovative inhibitors of the molecular chaperone heat shock protein 90 (HSP90), phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), protein kinase B/AKT, and cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), have now entered clinical trials. The 16-member team also carried out pioneering preclinical work on BRAF and its inhibitors, and discovered CHK1 and dual Aurora/FLT3 inhibitors.” Further highlighted was that “this team’s many research accomplishments include the discovery and development of abiraterone.” The AACR Award citation went on to say: “Overall, the work carried out by this multidisciplinary team over the last six years provides an outstanding example of the non-profit cancer drug discovery and development model that they have pioneered, as well as exemplifying a meritorious ability to collaborate productively with industry to accelerate patient benefit.”
Head of Division, Professor Paul Workman, recently featured on the BBC Horizon programme, talking about his team’s research on the discovery and development of new cancer drugs for personalised treatment. More information is available on our dedicated microsite
The Division of Cancer Therapeutics has an important interest in Paediatric Oncology and includes the Paediatric Drug Development and Clinical Trials Team, the Glioma Team and the Neuroblastoma Drug Development Team. We also have a particular interest in Haemato-Oncology research with clinical trials conducted in the Myeloma Targeted Treatment Team.