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Illuminating insights and innovative ideas at the world’s largest cancer conference


After an exhilarating five days sharing new research and ideas, researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, are returning from the world’s largest cancer conference – the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Posted on 02 June, 2015 by Andy Roast

Clinicians and scientists from all over the world came together in Chicago to share their data under the theme of Illumination and Innovation: Transforming Data into Learning. Researchers from the ICR were a great fit to discuss these themes – telling of their work shining a light on the underlying biology of cancer and describing how we are developing new, pioneering therapies. We wanted to share some of our highlights with you.


Detecting cancer in new, more precise ways can help doctors diagnose cancer more effectively and also, potentially, divide patients up into subgroups which might give information about how best to treat them.

Professor Johann de Bono investigated whether circulating tumour cells detected in blood samples could be a way to measure how patients respond to treatment in advanced prostate cancer. Monitoring how well patients are responding to treatment can help doctors to adjust treatments more quickly, especially if the treatment is not working and changes need to be made.

Professor Janet Shipley presented work focussed on a rare cancer that mostly affects children – rhabdomyosarcoma. By looking for a group of five genes, called MG5, the team was able to spot patients at a greater risk of developing a more severe form of the disease – a result which could help doctors spot patients who would benefit from more intensive treatment.


Other ICR researchers presented data about new innovative cancer treatments or described new ways to use old drugs. Clinical data were presented for drugs at different stages of development, from the first safety tests of brand new drugs in a handful of patients, to large clinical trials that assessed the effectiveness of a drug before it’s authorised to treat patients in the clinic.

Dr Nicholas Turner presented results from a Phase III trial that assessed whether a new targeted drug called palbociclib could be used alongside a hormone therapy drug called fulvestrant to treat HER2-negative breast cancer. The results of this could potentially change the way women with the disease are treated.

Dr Turner is a Consultant Medical Oncologist who leads breast cancer research for the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre based at the ICR and The Royal Marsden, said: “We were delighted to show that this new drug combination delayed the progression of the most common type of breast cancer by an average of five extra months, compared with standard treatment on its own.

“It could help a lot of women to delay the moment when they start chemotherapy, which is effective but is often a very difficult experience for women and their families to go through.”

Dr Udai Banerji presented two Phase I – early-stage – trials. One of these was a trial for a new drug called AZD5363 that is able to halt the function of the AKT pathway, which is important for cancer cell survival. This drug is already being tested in combination with other drugs, but this new study looks at whether it could treat a type of breast cancer with mutations to the PIK3CA gene – a gene commonly mutated in breast cancers.

Dr Banerji, alongside Professor de Bono, also tested the drug RO5126766 in patients with advanced tumours, as part of another Phase I clinical trial. This drug inhibits two proteins called MEK and RAF, which are needed for cancer to survive and grow.

Professor Robert Huddart was involved in a clinical trial looking at the use of a drug called lapatinib to treat patients with a type of advanced bladder cancer known as HER1/2 positive disease. Unfortunately the trial showed that the drug did not improve the clinical outcome of these patients, who had already received chemotherapy. Although this is a disappointing finding, it is an important one that will help inform the way doctors treat patients with this disease.

By providing their own illuminations, and listening to those of scientists and clinicians from across the globe, our researchers will be coming home inspired and ready to make the next round of innovative discoveries that can help defeat cancer.

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