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Pioneering centre for 'Darwinian' cancer drug discovery opens to researchers

Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery at sunset

A world-first new centre aiming to overcome cancer’s ability to evolve and become resistant to once effective treatments has opened its doors to researchers. 

Scientists at the new centre hope their approaches will mean long-term control of cancer, as well as cures. 

The Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery will house the world’s first ‘Darwinian’ drug discovery programme alongside many other promising projects centred on discovering new strategies to defeat cancer.

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, are moving into the new building this month – with hopes that the work they do will lead to a new generation of ‘anti-evolution’ treatments.

A multi-disciplinary approach to overcoming cancer evolution

Located on the Sutton site of the ICR, the state-of-the-art facility will bring together around 300 leading scientists in a single collaborative space. A multi-disciplinary mix of evolutionary experts, biologists, chemists, computational scientists and clinicians will create new resistance-busting treatments and therapeutic approaches – aiming to overcome or redirect the whole process of cancer evolution.

Cancer evolution – where some cancers adapt to treatment and their environment, and then become resistant to the drugs designed to halt their progress – is the biggest challenge we face in treating cancer. It means cancer cells, which initially respond well to treatment, can mutate to evade it and the patients find their tumour stops responding and begins to grow and spread again.

Home to many pioneering projects

The Centre will house a series of pioneering projects including:

• Using artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced mathematics to devise ways to ‘herd’ cancer so it is forced to adapt to one treatment by developing weaknesses against others

• Creating the world’s first anti-evolution cancer drug to slow down cancer’s ability to evolve and so delay its resistance to treatment

• Devising innovative, multi-drug combinations that block several different cancer genes at once – as used to achieve cures, or long-term control, for diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis

• Boosting the ability of the body’s immune system to fight against cancer

Take a video tour of the new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery to learn more about the building and the research that will go on within it.

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A flagship building of The London Cancer Hub

The £75m building, which spans 7,300 square metres, includes cutting-edge biology, chemistry and computational laboratories, meeting rooms and collaboration hubs to foster cross-disciplinary working and creativity.

The Centre will also be one of the flagship buildings at The London Cancer Hub – a collaboration between the London Borough of Sutton and the ICR – and will enhance the ability of scientists at the ICR to partner with industry to take their discoveries to market.

The new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery was given a virtual opening on Tuesday 17 November 2020 at an exclusive online event to celebrate all the support the ICR has received from donors, funders and partners who have made the building possible. The celebration marked the moving in of the first researchers and attendees were taken on a virtual tour of the facilities as researchers start to carry out their first experiments in their new surroundings.

The ICR continues to seek philanthropic support to equip the building to get research in the new Centre off to the best possible start.

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Helping patients live for much longer with a good quality of life

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“This new building is the embodiment of our research strategy, which centres on overcoming cancer evolution and drug resistance – the major challenge we face today in cancer research and treatment. The Centre will bring together our cancer evolution scientists with our drug discovery researchers all under one roof, so they can more easily share ideas and spark new discoveries.

“We have highly ambitious plans. The Centre will help us find new ways to overcome drug resistance so that we can manage patients for much longer with a good quality of life, just as is done with diseases like HIV and diabetes, while also increasing their chances of cure.

“The Centre would not have been possible were it not for the amazing generosity and strategic vision of our donors, funders and partners, and we are so grateful for their support. We are now focusing on raising funds to help us equip the building and to get our research in the new Centre off to the best possible start.”

Can we predict cancer evolution?

Dr Olivia Rossanese, Head of Cancer Therapeutics at the new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, said:

“I’m so excited to get down to work in the new Centre. The facilities are purposely designed and built to stimulate collaboration between our scientists as we work to create new ways of treating cancer that can overcome drug resistance and benefit patients.”

Professor Andrea Sottoriva, Director of Cancer Evolution at the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, said:

“Evolution and drug resistance amount to the biggest challenge faced by the cancer research community today. It’s inevitable that cancer evolves – but can we predict it? And if we can predict it, can we control it? We’ve already made great strides in answering those questions but we can go so much further now that we’re all working together in this state-of-the-art facility.”

Made possible by philanthropic support

Lara Jukes, Director of Development at the ICR, said:

“We’re so pleased that this pioneering centre has opened its doors to our scientists. They now have this cutting-edge workplace thanks to the support we received from our donors, funders and supporters. We would like to thank the UK Research Partnerships Investment Fund, Syncona, The Wolfson Foundation, Cris Cancer Foundation and the many other donors who gave so generously to our capital appeal and without whom the Centre would not have been possible.”

Cllr Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council, said:

"I am delighted that Sutton is now home to this world-leading cancer research centre, cementing our borough's position at the heart of the global pursuit for cancer cures and treatments. 

"The work that will be done at the Centre for Drug Discovery is truly inspiring to learn about, and I'm pleased that the links we have fostered between Sutton schools and the ICR mean that some of the next generation of cancer-beating scientists could come from the Cancer Hub's own doorstep. 

"Sutton Council's partnership with the ICR and commitment to the ongoing development of the London Cancer Hub will also bring wide-ranging opportunities and benefits to the wider community. 

"I congratulate our partners on the opening of the Centre and wish our scientists the very best with their vital research."


Paul Workman Andrea Sottoriva Centre for Evolution and Cancer Olivia Rossanese cancer evolution Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery Lara Jukes
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