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Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit

The Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit is the largest academic cancer drug discovery and development group worldwide. Its 14 research teams cover every aspect of new drug discovery and development, from cell and molecular biology through to chemical synthesis of new agents and their evaluation in clinical trials.

CRUK Cancer Therapeutics Unit members

The unit is largely funded by Cancer Research UK and is based within the Division of Cancer Therapeutics at The Institute of Cancer Research. Its research strategy is to exploit the vulnerabilities of cancer cells by discovering novel and innovative small-molecule drugs, and accompanying biomarkers, for the personalised treatment of cancer.

The Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit at the ICR has an unrivalled track record in discovering new cancer drugs. It discovered carboplatin – still the global standard of care for patients with a wide range of solid tumours – and more recently abiraterone, approved by NICE in 2012 for use in advanced prostate cancer.

Since 2005, the unit has driven the discovery of 20 preclinical drug candidates, and taken 10 new drugs into clinical trials. One of those was abiraterone, approved by NICE in 2012 to treat advanced prostate cancer.

The research output of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit, and the Drug Development Unit at the ICR and The Royal Marsden, received the American Association for Cancer Research’s 6th Team Science Award in 2012. The AACR citation for this prestigious award said: “This team’s research is an outstanding example of how innovative cancer research conducted by a highly functioning translational team can start with biologic hypotheses and ultimately lead to much-needed cancer therapeutics.”

In December 2015, the ICR was presented with the British Pharmacological Society’s UK Pharmacology on the Map award for institutions that have made a significant contribution to improving human health through drug discovery and pharmacology research.

The unit's Director is Professor Rajesh Chopra. He took over from Professor Paul Workman, who was Director from 1997-2015 and is now the ICR's Chief Executive.

Research teams in the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit

Cancer Pharmacology and Stress Response

Dr Vladimir Kirkin's team assesses activity of novel molecularly targeted anti-cancer agents in preclinical models of cancer – a key requirement for evidence-based drug development.

Team Leader: Dr Vladimir Kirkin


Clinical Pharmacodynamics Biomarker Group

Professor Banerji's team focuses on the development and validation of quantifiable and reproducible robust pharmacodynamic biomarkers in normal and tumour tissue that can be used in first-in-human studies.

Team leader: Professor Udai Banerji

Clinical Pharmacology & Trials (including Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics Group)

Dr Udai Banerji’s Clinical Pharmacology and Trials Team conducts early investigations of new anticancer agents developed in the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Centre.

Team leader: Professor Udai Banerji 


Clinical Pharmacology Adaptive Therapy Group

To study re-wiring of signal transduction to understand and overcome mechanisms of drug resistance and, in addition, to understand exploit cancer evolution using pharmacological tools.

Team leader:
Professor Udai Banerji

Computational Biology and Chemogenomics

Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani’s team develops computational tools to help cancer drug discovery efforts process the large amounts of data obtained through biomedical research.

Team leader:
Professor Bissan Al-Lazikani


Hit Discovery and Structural Design

Dr Rob van Montfort’s Hit Discovery & Structural Design Team uses screening techniques to narrow down the number of potential molecules to take forward into drug development.

Team leader: Dr Rob van Montfort

Medicinal Chemistry 1 (including Analytical Chemistry)

Dr Gurdip Bhalay's team focuses on the design and synthesis of safe and effective drugs for the treatment of cancer.

Team leader: Dr Gurdip Bhalay


Medicinal Chemistry 2

Professor Ian Collins’ Medicinal Chemistry 2 Team searches for new molecules that inhibit the activity of proteins responsible for the development and progression of cancer.

Team leader: Professor Ian Collins

Medicinal Chemistry 3

This team, originally Professor Keith Jones' and now overseen by Professor Raj Chopra, is investigating the use of drugs that can selectively kill cancer cells by inhibiting the biochemical pathways that drive particular cancers.

Team leader: Professor Rajesh Chopra


Medicinal Chemistry 4

Dr Swen Hoelder’s Medicinal Chemistry 4 Team designs and then synthesises molecules that could be used as cancer drugs.

Team leader:
Dr Swen Hoelder

Signal Transduction and Molecular Pharmacology

Professor Paul Workman’s Signal Transduction and Molecular Pharmacology Team is a key part of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and focuses on the mechanisms of molecular cancer therapies.

Team leader:
Professor Paul Workman


Target Discovery and Apoptosis

Dr Spiros Linardopoulos’ Target Discovery Laboratory carries out basic biological research to identify gene targets and patients who would benefit from specific treatments, before developing anticancer drugs to treat these subgroups.

Team leader: Professor Spiros Linardopoulos

Target Evaluation and Molecular Therapeutics

Dr Olivia Rossanese’s Target Evaluation and Molecular Therapeutics Team is investigating new targets to support the discovery of novel therapeutics to treat cancer. The team is also defining the molecular and genetic factors governing a cancer’s sensitivity to treatment with new drugs, to guide their clinical use.

Team leader:
Dr Olivia Rossanese

Translational Cancer Discovery

Professor Raj Chopra's team focuses on the discovery of novel small molecules that target difficult to drug proteins; development of 3-D organotypic models of cancer for drug discovery; and the development small molecules for immunomodulation with a focus on antigen presentation.


Team leader: Professor Rajesh Chopra