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Powerful Online Cancer Drug Discovery Database Unveiled


Monday 29 November 2010



A powerful new cancer drug discovery database has been launched to speed up the process of bringing drugs from ‘bench to bedside’.


The Cancer Research UK-funded database – known as ‘canSAR’ – has been set up by researchers at Cancer Research UK's Cancer Therapeutics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) to create a one-stop-shop for scientists worldwide. For the first time, it brings together all the relevant biological, chemical, pharmacological and eventually clinical data about important genes and proteins in every type of cancer in a way that greatly aids the discovery of new drugs.


The freely available database allows scientists and clinicians to search through cancer-related data and information across the spectrum of research – from genomics to clinical trials – in a fraction of the time it would previously have taken them to gather this information.


Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, an ICR scientist who led the research team that developed canSAR, said: “With the unprecedented amounts of electronic data being generated by modern molecular research techniques, the demand for a resource that brings together all this information and makes it available in a clear and manageable format is greater than ever. Previously the information was stored in many different locations and formats, which limited its effective use by researchers.”


Professor Paul Workman, Director of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit at the ICR, said: “We have already found canSAR to be fantastically useful in our own cancer drug discovery research. We are applying it to evaluate large number of potential drug targets in a faster and more systematic way than before and to select the best ones to work on. Having road tested it ourselves, I’m really excited about our powerful canSAR tool and I’m delighted to make it available to the cancer research community worldwide.


“Scientists can now, at the click of a button and at a single online location, rapidly identify the biological and structural characteristics of an actual or potential drug target, find the genes and proteins that it interacts with, assess its structural druggability and identify any small molecule chemical inhibitors. Researchers can also find information on the cancer cell lines that are most suitable for their experiments. This information is now available in minutes whereas it would previously have taken weeks to find.


“For example, one can quickly look at data on 700,000 chemical compounds acting on 4,000 molecular targets. It contains a total of more than eight million experimental data points. Patients will benefit because researchers will be able to move more quickly from a basic research discovery to new drugs in the clinic.”


canSAR contains information on the entire human proteome – the protein equivalent of the human genome - as well as linking to information on more than 1,000 cancer cells lines, used by researchers to study the effect of new drugs in the lab. Importantly, scientists will also have improved access to information about all the chemical compounds known to be active on a particular drug target – linking the biology and chemistry together in a new way.


Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “This new database will provide scientists with easy access to research being carried out by other specialist groups around the world, paving the way for a much more collaborative way of working.


“Hopefully this will help accelerate the pace at which discoveries involving the nuts and bolts of cancer can be translated into effective new drugs in the clinic. I’d encourage all researchers to take advantage of this important resource.”



For media enquiries please contact Ailsa Taylor in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8309 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.


Notes to editors:


About canSAR

canSAR is an integrated database and workbench that brings together biological, chemical, pharmacological (and eventually clinical) data. Its goal is to integrate this information and make it accessible to cancer research scientists from multiple disciplines worldwide, in order to help with hypothesis generation in cancer research and support drug discovery decisions.

Users can search canSAR using text queries, protein/gene name searches, any keyword searches, chemical structure searches and sequence similarity searches.

Additionally, users can explore and filter chemical compound sets, view experimental data and produce summary plots. For more information visit:


The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre.
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise.
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe.
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research.
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction.
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world.
  • The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic cancer drug discovery team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were designed and synthesised at the ICR. It has discovered 13 preclinical development candidates over the past five years, with five drugs currently in early clinical trial.

For more information visit


About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.
  • The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit


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