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Help us unlock new combination treatments for cancer patients

We have made huge progress in discovering new targeted treatments for cancer, helping patients live longer and well with cancer. With your support today, we can unlock new combinations of treatments to continue outsmarting cancer.

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"It's been the start of a whole new life for me."

Watch how Karen O’Malley, from Fife in Scotland (pictured centre front with friends) is living well with advanced bowel cancer and pursuing her passion for wild swimming, thanks to a combination of chemotherapy and a targeted treatment.

What are cancer combination therapies? 

Many cancer patients are treated with combination therapies. These therapies can combine two or more drugs or different types of therapy such as immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

By discovering clever new combinations that aim to treat cancer in different ways, we hope we can stop cancer from developing resistance early on.

Why do we need combination therapies? 

Drug resistance – where cancer adapts, evolves, and becomes resistant to treatment - is one of the biggest challenges we face in cancer research.

Over the years, our discovery of new targeted drugs has helped to improve the lives of cancer patients. But as cancer can become resistant to these drugs, we need to find ways to make them work harder.

One way we are doing this is by seeing if different combinations of treatments, either given at the same time, or in a certain sequence, will work better. This can involve treating patients with several drugs that work by different molecular mechanisms, or re-sensitising a cancer to an original treatment by giving the patient another therapy.

We need your donations to improve our understanding of the biology behind cancer, so we can find more combinations of treatments and help cancer patients have a better chance of surviving their cancer. 

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CEO Kristian Helin in front of our CCDD building

“Cancer’s ability to evolve and become resistant to treatment is one of the biggest challenges we face in creating effective cancer therapies – and the dream of a single pill to cure cancer looks outdated. We need to stay one step ahead of cancer by finding new treatments and combination therapies that can keep patients alive and healthy for much longer.”

Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of the ICR

Finding the right drug combination to defeat cancer

Here are some examples of how we are using smarter combinations of treatments to defeat cancer:

The world's first family of targeted drugs

We are creating what we believe is the world’s first family of drugs to target cancer’s ability to evolve. These potential drugs are being designed to stop the action of a molecule called APOBEC to reduce the rate of mutation in cancer cells, slow down evolution and delay resistance. We hope that a new class of APOBEC inhibitors could be given alongside a targeted cancer treatment to ensure it can keep cancer at bay for much longer.

Reinvigorating the response to chemotherapy

We have discovered a new drug that could reinvigorate the response to chemotherapy in cancers that had become resistant. The drug uses cancer’s rapid growth against it, by forcing cells to divide so quickly that they accumulate fatal errors. The drug works especially well in combination with chemotherapy in triple negative breast cancer cells – the deadliest form of breast cancer, for which there are few successful treatments.

Combining two innovative targeted medicines

We have shown that combining two innovative targeted medicines – the PARP inhibitor olaparib and a promising new drug, capivasertib – could treat a variety of advanced, drug-resistant cancers. We used the drug combination to target two fundamental weaknesses in cancer at the same time – a damaged system for repairing DNA, and ‘addiction’ to the AKT molecule which fuels tumour growth. 

The next generation of combination therapies

The next generation of combination therapies will combine novel immunotherapies with other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, to improve their effectiveness.

Radiotherapy – an established treatment with a connection to triggering the immune response – is a natural next step when looking at combination therapy. Cancers can be resistant to radiotherapy, just as they can be to drugs. However, we have found that combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy could make it harder for cancer cells to remain resistant, and lead to more effective treatment.

Discovering the best new therapy combinations

We are using our understanding of the biology of tumours, alongside cutting-edge laboratory models to develop new treatment options for patients - which can then be tried in different combinations. We are also supplementing this knowledge by using artificial intelligence (AI) to help us discover other potential combinations that a human may not spot.

For example, our scientists have created a prototype test that can predict which drug combinations are likely to work for cancer patients in as little as 24 to 48 hours. The cutting-edge technique uses artificial intelligence to analyse large-scale protein data from tumour samples and is able to predict patients’ response to drugs more accurately than is currently possible.

Karen’s story 

Karen O'Malley and her grandchildren in the park

Karen O’Malley, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2015, aged 53. Shortly afterwards she found out the cancer had spread, and it was no longer curable. She has been on a combination therapy of chemotherapy and a targeted drug for the past six years.

Karen says: When I was told I was not expected to live beyond a year, the news broke me. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I didn’t know what to do. But then I was put onto the combination treatment and within weeks it started working.

“It’s been the start of a whole new life for me. Thanks to my treatment, I’ve been able to welcome my three grandchildren into the world, and as a trained midwife, I even delivered one of them! I spend most of my time with my family and my dog, and I’ve started wild swimming as it makes me feel so alive."


How your support helps

As well as being a world-leading cancer research institute, we are a charity.

Our research is already helping improve the lives of people with cancer. But we can only do this with the help of people like you.

Support our research to combat cancer drug resistance and outsmart cancer with new and better treatment combinations – so that more people like Karen, will live longer and well with cancer.

Please donate today to help us unlock new treatments. Let’s finish cancer together.

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