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Division of Cancer Therapeutics

The Division of Cancer Therapeutics, housing the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit, has an unrivalled track record at discovering novel cancer treatments and biomarkers. Its work has made The Institute of Cancer Research, London, the world’s most successful academic centre at discovering new cancer drugs.

See Head of Division and Teams

Scientist in a lab

The division aims to exploit the vulnerabilities of cancer cells by discovering novel and innovative small-molecule drugs for the personalised treatment of cancer. The division also develops biomarkers designed to confirm the effectiveness of molecularly targeted therapies, and help doctors to determine which therapy will benefit each patient.

The division brings together a wide variety of disciplines, including cell and molecular biology, pharmacology, tumour modelling, computational and structural biology, and medicinal chemistry, in order to select promising drug targets, design effective prototype drugs and biomarkers, and develop strategies to counter drug resistance.

The ICR’s track record in therapeutics includes the discovery of carboplatin – still the global standard of care for patients with a wide range of solid tumours – and abiraterone, approved by NICE in 2012 for use in advanced prostate cancer. Since 2005, the ICR has discovered 20 preclinical drug candidates, and taken 10 new drugs into clinical trials. The ICR also discovered abiraterone, which was approved by NICE in 2012, to treat advanced prostate cancer.

A priority for the Division of Cancer Therapeutics is to tackle the challenge of tumour heterogeneity, cancer evolution and resistance to drug treatments. It has pursued the discovery and development of HSP90 inhibitors, as one way of preventing or overcoming drug resistance. The division is also interested in ways of planning drug regimens or combinations to avoid or overcome resistance.

Scientists in the division have also created CanSAR, a powerful and freely available online cancer knowledgebase, designed to support cancer research and drug discovery. ICR scientists have used CanSAR to integrate complex biological, chemical and pharmacological data to identify 46 previously overlooked but potentially 'druggable' cancer targets.

Awards

The research output of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and the Drug Development Unit 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.

Head of Division

Dr Olivia  Rossanese

Dr Olivia Rossanese

Dr Olivia Rossanese is Interim Director of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and Interim Head of the Division of Cancer Therapeutics. She is investigating new therapeutic targets for the treatment of cancer and examining the molecular consequences of their inhibition in cancer cells and tumours.

ORCID 0000-0002-1262-9522

Research teams

Cancer Pharmacology and Stress Response

Team leader: Dr Vladimir Kirkin

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.

Clinical Pharmacodynamics Biomarker Group

Team leader: Professor Udai Banerji

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.

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

Team leader: Professor Udai Banerji

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.

Clinical Pharmacology Adaptive Therapy Group

Team leader: Professor Udai Banerji

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.

Computational Biology and Chemogenomics

Team leader: Professor Bissan Al-Lazikani

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.

Glioma

Team leader: Professor Chris Jones

Dr Chris Jones’ Glioma Team investigates ways to translate basic molecular pathology findings into improved clinical outcomes for children with cancer.

Hit Discovery and Structural Design

Team leader: Dr Rob van Montfort

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.

Medicinal Chemistry 1

Team leader: Dr Gurdip Bhalay

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

Medicinal Chemistry 2

Team leader: Professor Ian Collins

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.

Medicinal Chemistry 3

Team leader: Dr Gary Newton

Dr Gary Newton’s team designs and synthesises molecules that inhibit key pathways in the development and progression of cancer with the aim of developing new, safer and more effective treatments. This team was previously overseen by Professor Rajesh Chopra.

Medicinal Chemistry 4 (including Analytical Chemistry)

Team leader: Dr Swen Hoelder

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

Medicine (de Bono) Drug Development Unit

Team leader: Professor Johann de Bono

Professor Johann de Bono's Drug Development Unit is responsible for early clinical trials of novel cancer drugs.

Molecular Addictions

Team leader: Dr Igor Vivanco

Dr Igor Vivanco’s Molecular Addictions Team is studying the interplay between metabolism and cancer cell signalling, with the potential for developing therapies that target these interactions.

Paediatric Solid Tumour Biology and Therapeutics

Team leader: Professor Louis Chesler

Dr Louis Chesler’s Paediatric Tumour Biology Team is investigating the genetic causes for the childhood cancers, neuroblastoma, medulloblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma.

Preclinical Molecular Imaging

Team leader: Dr Gabriela Kramer-Marek

Dr Gabriela Kramer-Marek’s Preclinical Molecular Imaging Team uses cutting-edge biomedical imaging techniques to gain information about the way particular genes drive cancer progression.

Prostate Cancer Targeted Therapy Group

Team leader: Professor Johann de Bono

Professor Johann de Bono’s Prostate Cancer Targeted Therapy Group investigates new molecular targeted therapies to improve the treatment of patients with advanced prostate cancer.

Sarcoma Molecular Pathology

Team leader: Professor Janet Shipley

Professor Janet Shipley’s Sarcoma Molecular Biology Team is investigating ways to improve the treatment of patients with soft tissue sarcomas associated with poor clinical outcome.

Signal Transduction and Molecular Pharmacology

Team leader: Professor Paul Workman

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.

Target Biology and Genomic Instability

Team leader: Dr Anderson Wang

Dr Anderson Wang's team is focused on functional characterisation of molecular mechanisms that lead to genomic instability, a hallmark of cancer, with the aim to identify novel targets and develop therapeutic approaches to selectively kill cancer cells.

Target Discovery and Apoptosis

Team leader: Dr Anderson Wang

The Target Discovery and Apoptosis team is led by Dr Anderson Wang and 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. The team was previously led by Professor Spiros Linardopoulos, who left the ICR in May 2020.

Target Evaluation and Molecular Therapeutics

Team leader: Dr Olivia Rossanese

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.

Thoracic Oncology Immunotherapy Group

Team leader: Dr Astero Klampatsa

Dr Klampatsa's team is focused on researching two areas of unmet need. Firstly, unravelling the cellular mechanisms responsible for a lack of T cell immune response in this tumour, with the aim to identify markers of response to immunotherapy. And secondly, developing new CAR T cell therapies for this disease by engineering patients' T cells to attack specific antigens on the tumour's surface.

Translational Cancer Discovery

Professor Raj Chopra's team focused 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. Professor Chopra left the ICR in March 2020.