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ICR experts show Discovery Club how to build the cancer drugs of the future

 Professor Ian Collins discusses designing the cancer drugs of the future with members of the Discovery Club

Image: Professor Ian Collins discusses designing the cancer drugs of the future with members of the Discovery Club

Members of the ICR’s Discovery Club saw first-hand the delicacy and complexity of techniques used to sculpt new drug molecules, as they learned how our scientists design the cancer drugs of the future.

At an evening at The Royal Society of Chemistry, Professor Ian Collins and Dr Rob van Montfort described the cutting-edge chemistry and structural biology they use to build compounds on the scale of individual atoms.

Alongside colleagues, they demonstrated how chemical reactions are used to construct molecules and how powerful X-rays are used to understand their shape. Sophisticated modelling also showed how molecules bind with cancer-causing proteins to build better drugs.

The event was a fascinating insight into the world-class drug discovery research taking place at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, which is transforming the lives of patients with cancer.

Molecular architects

The Discovery Club heard from two of our molecular architects, Professor Collins and Dr van Montfort, who work together using their expertise in medicinal chemistry and structural biology to build the cancer drugs of the future.

Professor Collins described how our scientists are helping to identify the folds and crevices on proteins that are important in cancer and designing small molecules to fit.

By understanding the atomic structure of the proteins, researchers can design and synthesise drugs that fit perfectly into their target site, knocking out the protein’s activity.

Triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer that currently has limited treatment options. Professor Collins talked about a new cancer drug giving new hope for those patients.

He described the story of the discovery and development of capivasertib, a targeted drug which has recently shown potential benefit in clinical trials for the disease.

The drug, formerly called AZD5363, was discovered following a collaboration including ICR researchers and was developed through an early stage trial led by the ICR and its partner hospital The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor Collins said:

“For a lot of the drugs we’re trying to make, this will be the first time this molecule has ever existed anywhere.

“As a chemist that’s what really excites me, to hold in your hands something that is probably the first time in the universe this particular arrangement of atoms has ever been created. That’s fantastic and it is the creative discipline of synthetic chemistry.”

Demonstrating the drug discoverer’s toolkit

Dr van Montfort (image below) told the Discovery Club how his team study crystallised proteins to understand their shape in order to build drugs that bind tightly.

Dr Rob van Montfort describes the cutting-edge techniques used to design new cancer drugs

His team work with powerful X-ray microscopes, which are needed to see proteins on the atomic scale.

Through a painstaking process of building molecules and seeing how they bind to their target protein, researchers can hone in on those that are the most potent and have the greatest potential to make a good cancer drug.

Scientists from Professor Collins and Dr van Montfort’s team (image below) showed the Discovery Club the cutting-edge techniques involved in their work. They demonstrated the tools they use to understand the structures of proteins and build cancer drugs.

ICR researchers demonstrate the techniques used to design and develop new cancer drugs

The Discovery Club provides its members with personal access to the science behind our discoveries. Through special events and updates, it is an opportunity to speak directly with the people who are working towards better outcomes for cancer patients and learn more about our research.

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Revolutionising cancer treatment

Professor Collins and Dr van Montfort will be working in our new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, due to open later this year.

The pioneering research programme within the building will focus on understanding, anticipating and overcoming the disease’s lethal ability to evolve and develop resistance.

Dr van Montfort said: “I hope that what Ian and I have shown is that you need skilled multidisciplinary teams to design cancer drugs, you can’t do it on your own.

“It takes a team science approach and the new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery will allow us to work in a more integrated way, helping us work faster and more efficiently.”

We are now poised to outsmart cancer with the world’s first 'Darwinian' drug discovery programme. We believe this anti-evolution approach will deliver new and better treatments for cancer patients – ensuring even advanced disease can be managed long term and more often cured

Deputy Director of Philanthropy Hannah Joyce said:

“It was a fantastic event and it’s great that more people than ever are attending and learning first-hand about our world class drug discovery research.

“We had some fantastic feedback from our guests, particularly around the demonstrations from our young scientists, giving our Discovery Club members a glimpse into what it takes to develop new cancer drugs.”

Your support is vital to our work

The Discovery Club is our high-level giving club whose members help us to drive forward our scientific strategy through philanthropic investment in key organisational priorities.

The events are an opportunity for members to hear from leading ICR scientists and clinicians about their work, and the ways that their support is making a difference.

If you would like to find out more, please contact Hannah Joyce, Deputy Director of Philanthropy.


Ian Collins fundraising Discovery Club Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery philanthropy Rob van Montfort
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