Dr Udai Banerji works both in the laboratory and the clinic, carrying out highly sophisticated trials of new targeted cancer drugs and looking after patients on these trials. He and Professor Johann de Bono – also featured in Panorama – are both part of the Drug Development Unit at the ICR and The Royal Marsden, which is currently trialling 39 new drugs in a wide variety of cancers.
Sarah, one of Dr Banerji’s patients, is featured in the programme. Sarah was involved with a Phase I clinical trial of an experimental drug called BMN-673 – a member of a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors, which work by exploiting a weakness in cancer cells’ DNA repair machinery. These drugs have been shown to be effective against cancers with defects in the BRCA genes.
Can You Cure My Cancer? also includes the story of Jacqueline, another patient who took part in a trial at the Drug Development Unit – this time of a different drug, called a MEK inhibitor. Sadly Jacqueline, who had advanced cancer, died during the filming of the programme.
The idea that new drugs used as single agents or in combination could tackle chemotherapy resistant cancer, could be just around the corner is a huge motivator for all the staff at the Drug Development Unit. As well as trialling new drugs from existing families like PARP inhibitors, they are testing a range of drugs in new combinations, and new families of drugs that work by tackling numerous cancer resistance pathways at once, to try to prevent cancer from evolving an ‘escape route’ from treatment.
Dr Banerji and Professor Johann de Bono have conducted crucial first-in-human studies of a rich pipeline of drugs discovered in collaboration with the ICR, which include abiraterone, a drug for advanced prostate cancer, and AUY922 an HSP90 inhibitor. They are part of a team that has won prestigious awards such as the AACR team science award for drug discovery and the Cancer Research UK translational research award for their work on HSP90 inhibitors.
More about Dr Banerji's work
Dr Banerji has featured on the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory.