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New Head of Cancer Therapeutics sets sights on cancers of unmet need

Dr Rajesh Chopra, a global leader in the development of molecularly targeted cancer drugs, will be joining The Institute of Cancer Research, London, to spearhead its world-leading work in cancer therapeutics.

Dr Chopra plans to build upon the ICR’s international reputation for drug discovery by driving new advances in cancers of unmet need.

At the ICR, he will be Head of the Division of Cancer Therapeutics and Director of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit. He will also lead the Translational Cancer Discovery Team, and will hold an ICR Professorship and an honorary position at The Royal Marsden.

Dr Chopra is a hugely experienced scientific and clinical leader who has developed molecularly targeted therapies in both industry and academic settings. He has expertise not only in small-molecule drugs but also in biological agents and immunotherapy.

His main priority at the ICR will be to help develop novel approaches to treatment based on our understanding of cancer biology and to focus on cancers where there is currently a dearth of treatment options, including rare tumours.

That will involve addressing the challenges of cancer evolution by targeting mechanisms of drug resistance and expanding the ICR’s therapeutic repertoire by identifying new targets for small-molecule drugs, as well as developing a capability in biological agents. Dr Chopra also stresses the importance of building on the ICR’s existing partnerships with The Royal Marsden, industry and academic consortia.

Dr Chopra will move to the ICR from his role as Corporate Vice President of Translational Research and Early Drug Development at Celgene Corporation. He was instrumental there in setting up the department, which bridges the gap between discovery and clinical development through rational design of new drug molecules or combinations.

Originally trained in medicine at University College London, Dr Chopra undertook a PhD and then a postdoctoral fellowship at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia. He was Director of Haematological Oncology at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, helping to build the unit into one of the largest bone marrow transplant and leukaemia programmes in Europe, before taking up a senior leadership role at AstraZeneca.

Dr Chopra has driven a series of major advances in the development of rationally targeted therapies for cancer and other diseases. His achievements in cancer research include helping to establish the role of autologous stem cell therapy in lymphomas, contributing to the clinical development of 10 registered drugs, and defining the mechanism of action of thalidomide and its successor drugs in multiple myeloma and myelodysplasia. 

Dr Chopra said: “I’m excited to be joining such a world-renowned centre for drug discovery and innovation. I’m looking forward to applying my expertise to help open up new approaches to treatment at the ICR, and to playing a part in strengthening the ICR’s relationship with The Royal Marsden, in order to take even more novel treatments into the clinic.

“I aim to foster an entrepreneurial and thoughtful culture that will help in identifying new approaches for treating cancers – especially where there is unmet need – while training and mentoring the ‘drug hunters’ of the future.”

Dr Chopra will take the reins from Professor Paul Workman, who has led Cancer Therapeutics for nearly two decades, latterly while also holding the role of Chief Executive and President of the ICR.

Professor Workman said: “I am delighted to be leaving the Division and Unit in such extremely capable hands. Raj’s depth and breadth of expertise in drug discovery and development, science-driven approach, leadership skills, and international network of contacts in academia, pharma and biotech make him the ideal person to build upon our past successes. I also expect Raj to make a major contribution to the development of the ICR’s new research strategy, as well as contributing to the overall therapeutic research efforts of Cancer Research UK and nationally.”
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