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20
Sep
2018

Cancer researchers, family and friends gather to celebrate award of Queen’s Regius Professorship to Professor Johann de Bono

Regius Profesorship

Image: Professor Johann de Bono (left) at the event. Credit: Graham Shaw

Colleagues from across cancer research, family and friends came together to celebrate and mark the achievements of Professor Johann de Bono of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, as he delivered a celebratory lecture to mark his appointment as the ICR's first Regius Professor of Cancer Research.

At the ICR, we were delighted when we became one of just 12 institutions across the UK to receive new Regius Professorships to mark Her Majesty the Queen's 90th birthday. The title of Regius Professor is a tremendous honour for an organisation, and has only been bestowed fourteen times since the era of Queen Victoria.

Ours is also the first ever Regius Professorship of Cancer Research and it recognises our achievements over more than 100 years of history in advancing our understanding of cancer to benefit patients.

Transforming prospects for patients with cancer

Professor de Bono is best known for having played a key role over the last three decades in the transformation of prospects for men with advanced prostate cancer, through the development of treatments that have not only extended life but also greatly improved quality of life.

He has led pivotal clinical trials for the prostate cancer drugs cabazitaxel, enzalutamide and, of course, abiraterone. Discovered at the ICR, abiraterone has become a standard of care for men with advanced prostate cancer, benefiting hundreds of thousands of men worldwide.

But Professor de Bono's expertise in drug development has had impacts far beyond prostate cancer and, over the past decade, he has been involved in the development of more than 100 potential new cancer drugs.

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Prostate cancer's 'Rosetta stone'

Professor de Bono is the Director of the Drug Development Unit at the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust – one of the world's largest and most successful phase I clinical trials centres for cancer. He is also Head of the ICR's Division of Clinical Studies and leader of two research teams on prostate cancer targeted therapies and cancer biomarkers.

His team played a role in the mapping of genetic mutations in prostate cancer, hailed as the disease's 'Rosetta Stone', to help researchers decipher the complexity of the disease. This work has enabled the pioneering of precision medicine in prostate cancer.

Professor de Bono's team specialises in developing new molecularly targeted therapies for cancer, bringing together the genetics of patients and their cancers with the development of new 'biomarker' tests to guide treatment, and innovative clinical trials.

His work has also helped to pioneer the development of so-called 'liquid biopsies', which give vital information about cancers through the detection of tumour cells and DNA in the bloodstream. His recent work has increasingly focused on the potential of immunotherapy in treating prostate cancer.

Voyage of Discovery

Professor de Bono's lecture, held in the beautiful setting of The Royal Society, looked back on highlights from his prolific career.

He described cancer research as a voyage of discovery, and how like the great discoverers who set sail for unknown lands, there is still so much more to find.

He cited Sir Isaac Newton as one of his role models and, acknowledging the contribution of many great researchers who have come before him, quoted his famous words: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder of giants.”

Professor Johann de Bono, the first Regius Professor of Cancer Research at the ICR, said:

“Since I began working in the field of cancer research there has been great progress in improving the lives of patients with cancer, through new treatments, earlier diagnosis and a better understanding of the disease, but the greatest challenges lie ahead.

“Like climbing the highest peaks, it takes a team to make it to the top, to keep climbing the mountain together to make the discoveries that defeat cancer.

“Being named the first Regius Professor of Cancer Research is a rare honour, and it very much feels like lifting the trophy for my team, and that is the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden, where I'm very proud to work.”

'A true pioneer'

The ICR's Chief Executive, Professor Paul Workman, said: “When we met to consider who should receive the honour of holding the ICR's Regius Professorship of Cancer Research, we knew it needed to be a really special researcher.

“I cannot think of a more fitting first recipient than my friend and colleague Professor Johann de Bono. He is quite simply, a true pioneer of precision medicine in prostate cancer, and one of the world's foremost experts in the clinical development of new treatments for cancer.”

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