Abiraterone is one of the biggest translational research achievements of the UK academic sector in the past 10 years.
With commercial partners including BTG, researchers at the ICR discovered and developed this blockbuster prostate cancer drug, which has treated many thousands of men worldwide and currently generates around $2.5bn in sales per year.
After initially being approved by regulators for advanced cancer, the drug is now also being used to combat earlier-stage disease.
PI3 kinase inhibitors
ICR scientists were instrumental in the cancer biology research that led to the discovery of PI3K inhibitors, before working in collaboration with Piramed Pharma (an ICR spinout company ultimately acquired by Roche for $175m) and others to develop the first-in-class PI3K inhibitor pictilisib.
Piramed also licensed a compound to Genentech, which is currently progressing through clinical trials. Our PI3K research has also led to the development of idelalisbib for some haematological cancers.
In collaboration with biotech company Sareum, ICR researchers used structure-based design to optimise the biological activities and pharmaceutical properties of prototype drugs identified through fragment-based screening against the cell cycle kinase CHK1.
This led to pre-clinical research (supported in part by investment from the Cancer Research Technology Pioneer Fund) to clinical trials, and to the licensing of a lead compound (now called SRA737) to Sierra Oncology (formerly ProNAI Therapeutics).
Drugs that inhibit protein kinase B (PKB), also known as AKT, exist thanks to the ICR’s work and our collaborations with industry. After elucidating its crystal structure, we licensed reagents to several different pharmaceutical companies to enable them to begin PKB drug discovery programmes.
Drugs from our own PKB drug discovery programme were licensed to AstraZeneca and Astex and one is now in late stage clinical trials.
Another research programme involving a partnership with specialist healthcare company BTG, the development of BTG945 as a first-in-class targeted drug for ovarian cancer has involved a fruitful collaboration between ICR researchers at the top of their fields and colleagues at a small, innovative company.
Read more about how we're commercialising a pioneering cancer drug
Our science, including research in collaboration with UK biotechnology company KuDOS, underpinned the development of olaparib (trade name Lynparza, owned by AstraZeneca), which after first being approved by the FDA for BRCA-mutated serous ovarian cancer, has now been approved in more subtypes of ovarian and breast cancer.
More broadly, our research underpinned the discovery and development of all PARP inhibitors, and led to clinical trials that are now showing the potential benefit of PARP inhibitors including olaparib in different tumour types.
Circulating Biomarker Studies
ICR researchers have collaborated extensively with multiple biotech and pharma partners to evaluate liquid biopsies using both circulating tumour cells and cell-free DNA, with analyses performed locally. This has led to multiple analyses of these technologies in clinical trials (phase I, II and III) and genomic analyses as well as multiple publications. Most recently, we have collaborated with Menarini/Silicon Biosystems and Terumo to show that short apheresis procedures can yield thousands of circulating tumour cells and provide a ‘true’ liquid biopsy.
Elastography in diagnostic ultrasound
A collaborative project between the ICR and Zonare Medical Systems has developed software that provides added functionality for diagnostic ultrasound imaging via elastography – a technique that may lead to significant improvements in cancer diagnosis.
Our imaging researchers are also driving new forms of technology into the cancer research context, such as photo-acoustic imaging (PAI).
The ICR, alongside our hospital partner The Royal Marsden, is a leading member of the academic research consortium that is developing the MR Linac in collaboration with healthcare technology company Elekta.
This pioneering technology allows simultaneous real-time imaging and radiotherapy delivery and could treat cancers that current technologies cannot cure – such as lung cancers where tumours move due to breathing.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)
We are working with healthcare and digital technology company Philips to develop high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), a pioneering technology that uses ultrasound to destroy tumours without the need for surgery.
Working with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, our researchers found that mutated BRAF is an oncogene, and later described its molecular structure, allowing pharmaceutical companies to develop selective BRAF inhibitors – including vemurafenib and dabrafenib, since approved to treat melanoma.
Our research also showed that using MEK inhibitors alongside BRAF inhibitors improves outcomes compared to BRAF inhibitors alone.