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AACR 2022: Major cancer conference aims to decode cancer's complexity


With the 2022 AACR Annual Meeting kicking off later this week, Alisa Crisp, Diana Cano and Hattie Hayeck look at some of the pioneering research that will be presented by our researchers at the conference.

Posted on 05 April, 2022 by Alisa Crisp, Diana Cano and Hattie Hayeck

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The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting brings scientists, clinicians and other health professionals together to share the latest advances in cancer research.

The meeting will run from 8 – 13 April and researchers will once again be able to attend in person – although attending virtually is also possible. The theme of the meeting, taking place in New Orleans, US, will be ‘Decoding cancer complexity, integrating science and transforming patient outcomes’.

Scientists from different institutions will gather to present their work – and, of course, researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, and our clinical partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, will be in attendance, with many of them presenting their ground-breaking research.

This year, the work of various ICR scientists has been recognised by the AACR. Professor Terry Rabbitts has been elected a Fellow, while the prestigious Team Science Award is going to an interdisciplinary research team of scientists and clinicians at the ICR and The Royal Marsden for their “seminal translational discoveries in breast cancer research that have led to significant improvements in diagnosis and treatment”.

Here we highlight some of the research that will be showcased at this year’s meeting – ranging from drug discovery initiatives, to research on BRCA-targeting PARP inhibitors, immunotherapy advances and findings from a variety of clinical trials.

Advances in drug discovery

Professor Paul Workman, Harrap Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the ICR, will present a new HSF1 pathway inhibitor (abstract ND08), NXP800, which is entering clinical trials for ovarian cancer.

NXP800 was discovered at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and targets the pathway regulated by the HSF1 transcription factor. The first patients are to receive doses of the innovative new drug as part of a new clinical trial.

The NXP800 clinical trial

Professor Workman will also take part in an educational session on the use of chemical probes (abstract ED006) to validate protein targets for drug discovery. Chemical tools have become invaluable in cancer research, and the session outlines how to choose and use high quality chemical probes.

Dr Hadley Sheppard, a postdoc in the Cancer Therapeutics division, will discuss brachyury, a transcription factor (abstract 6355) dysregulated in the rare cancer chordoma. Dr Sheppard will present two mechanisms to target this previously “undruggable” protein, including through targeted protein degradation.

Professor Udai Banerji will be presenting data from the phase I FRAME trial on the combination of two inhibitors (abstract 3476) in low-grade serous ovarian cancer. Using the inhibitors together disrupts key signalling pathways in cancer cells, supporting the use of this combination to treat ovarian cancer.

Resistance to PARP inhibitors

Many of the studies at this year’s conference relate to the use of PARP inhibitors – a targeted cancer drug that prevents cancer’s ability to repair damage to its DNA – and overcoming cancer’s resistance to this form of treatment.

One of the studies, presented by Dr Diana Zatreanu (abstract 5697), will focus on the POLQ inhibitor, ART558. The team are studying the effect of ART588 on DNA damage and cell death in breast cancer cells with mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

The study reveals the mechanism of resistance to a PARP inhibitor and subsequent benefits in the use of ART588 in causing DNA damage and cell death while also enhancing the effects of a PARP inhibitor.

In ovarian cancer, a study led by Professor Banerji shows how populations of cancer cells evolve (abstract 3790) in response to treatment with two chemotherapy drugs or the PARP inhibitor olaparib.

Potential advances in the treatment of another aggressive cancer are those for desmoplastic small round cell tumour (DSRCT) – a rare subtype of sarcoma. Treatments for this type of cancer have not progressed in the past 20 years. Research involving Professor Chris Lord (abstract 6277) will provide the grounds for assessing the combined use of ATR and PARP inhibitors as a new treatment approach for people with this disease. 

The support and dedication of family charity partners like The Kelly Turner Foundation is crucial in driving our work to better understand and treat Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumour (DSRCT).

The Kelly Turner Foundation

Utilising the immune system

Another focus of the meeting will be on understanding and harnessing the immune system to combat cancer.

Dr Juanita Lopez’s research on a new type of immunotherapy (abstract CT149), which makes use of the immune system’s ‘natural killer cells’ to treat a range of solid tumours, will also be presented.

PhD student Hanyun Zhang and Dr Anca Grapa, from the Computational Pathology and Integrative Genomics Team, will be presenting some of their research looking at immune hotspots (abstract LB064) and research on immune infiltration (abstract LB153) in lung cancers.

While immune ‘hotspots’ are areas where immune cells recognise and interact with cancer cells – and where immunotherapy seems to be more likely to work – tumour-infiltrating immune cells are cells that enter tumours to fight cancer cells. They are an important biomarker in predicting treatment efficacy.

Dr Christina Guo, from the Prostate Cancer Targeted Therapy Group led by Professor Johann de Bono, will be presenting research (abstract 3415) on advanced prostate cancer – exploring the link between a high neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio in the blood and myeloid infiltration within tumours.

Dr Guo will also present research on HPN424 (abstract 2898), a PSMA-targeting molecule designed to redirect T-cells to kill PSMA-expressing prostate cancer cells.

Our researchers regularly present their latest findings at the AACR Annual Meeting in the US.

Discover what's happening at the AACR

Advances in the clinic

Also in prostate cancer, Professor Johann de Bono will be presenting the latest results of his TALAPRO trial (abstract CT031), which looks at using the PARP inhibitor talazoparib in men with advanced and heavily pre-treated prostate cancer.

Findings relating to the IPATential150 study will also be featured (abstract 6317) at the AACR. This trial was led by Professor de Bono and looks at combining ipatasertib and abiraterone as a first-line treatment in prostate cancers lacking a functioning PTEN gene.

Professor Alan Melcher is also part of the ReoGlio phase I trial, which will also be presented (abstract CT569) and looks at using pelareorep, a treatment made from reovirus, to treat the brain cancer glioblastoma.

Findings from other trials that will be featured include the GARNET trial (abstract 5135), which involves Dr Susana Banerjee and looks at dostarlimab in advanced solid tumours, INTERLINK-1 (abstract CT236) involving Professor Kevin Harrington, and KEYNOTE-992 (abstract CT564), involving Professor Nick James, to name a few.

Follow the conference online

This is just some of our research coming up at this year’s AACR Annual Meeting – and there’s even more from institutions across the globe. Keep up to date with the conference by following along on Twitter using the hashtag #AACR22.

And if you want to find out more about ICR research being presented at the AACR 2022, please head to the AACR website to browse sessions by day.

Browse sessions by day


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