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Cancer evolution and precision medicine

Cancer’s genetic diversity, and its ability to adapt and evolve, can make it extremely difficult to treat. We are working to create new treatments that anticipate cancer’s evolution, and can overcome or prevent drug resistance. We are designing new types of targeted drugs and immunotherapies, and new combination treatments, designed to cut off the routes that tumours use to evade treatment.

Mixture of pills

Image: Mixture of pills. Pixabay. (License CC0)

In our Making the discoveries: our research strategy, we lay out how we plan to combat the clinical challenges caused by cancer evolution. At the forefront of our work in this area is our Centre for Evolution and Cancer – the first of its scale in the world – which offers a radically different way of thinking about cancer, and gives researchers new tools to explore the fundamentals of the disease.

Multidisciplinary researchers at the centre are seeking to answer three big questions in cancer medicine: Why are humans so vulnerable to cancer? What determines the unpredictable development of cancers in the body over time? And why do we so often see drug resistance?

At The Institute of Cancer Research, London, we are also bringing together our cancer evolution programme with our world-leading work in cancer drug discovery, to accelerate progress towards new treatments that can tackle the evolutionary behaviour of a patient’s cancer.

We are using data science techniques to identify the most promising targets for new cancer drugs, exploiting our knowledge of the biology of tumours to create new forms of immunotherapy, and designing rational drug combinations and regimens aimed at slowing or blocking evolution.

At the ICR’s Tumour Profiling Unit, and the Centre for Molecular Pathology at The Royal Marsden and the ICR, we are carrying out detailed genetic analysis of tumours to help guide the selection of the best treatment for each individual patient.

And our work on liquid biopsies is helping us to monitor the progression of cancer through blood tests, so that we can adjust treatment in response to evolutionary changes.

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