Four international research teams from across the U.K., U.S., and Europe will share £71 million (approximately $88.5 million) in funding through Cancer Research UK’s inaugural Grand Challenge award. The projects will address some of the most pressing cancer research challenges by developing virtual 3D and global “Google Earth” maps of tumors, identifying the causes of cancers with specific genetic fingerprints, and providing new insights that could prevent overtreatment.
“When we began the Grand Challenge, we sought scientific adventurers—people willing to come together in new ways, to think differently, and bring novel approaches to answer the big questions in cancer,” commented Rick Klausner, M.D., chair of the Grand Challenge advisory panel and former director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute. “These unique teams have done just that. Cancer is a complex and often brutal disease. Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge is helping us change the way we to tackle it—bringing together different disciplines, ideas, and people on a global scale.”
Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, added, “Cancer Research UK set up the Grand Challenge to bring a renewed focus and energy to the fight against cancer. We want to shine a light on the toughest questions that stand in the way of progress.”
The 5-year Grand Challenge initiative aims to bring interdisciplinary scientists together to tackle seven of what CRUK calls the biggest problems in cancer research. These are:
1. The development of vaccines to prevent nonviral cancers
2. Global eradication of EBV-induced cancers
3. To discover how unusual patterns of mutation are induced by different cancer-causing events
4. To distinguish between lethal cancers that need treatment and nonlethal cancers that don’t
5. To find a way of mapping tumors at the molecular and cellular level
6. The development of innovative approaches to target the cancer supercontroller MYC
7. The delivery of biologically active macromolecules to any and all cells in the body
The four teams selected for this first round of Grand Challenge funding will address three of these seven challenges. One of the projects, titled, “IMAXT: Imaging and Molecular Annotation of Xenografts and Tumors,” has been awarded £20 million ($25 million). It aims to combine sequencing, imaging, and other techniques to generate virtual 3D tumors from patient samples that contain every cell type and cell interaction found in the real tumor. The project brings together researchers, computer scientists, and virtual reality experts from the U.K., U.S., Switzerland, and Canada. Headed by Greg Hannon, Ph.D., at the U.K.’s University of Cambridge, the team's ultimate goal is to generate 3D tumor technology that will help researchers discover new ways to diagnose, classify, and treat cancers. The initial focus is on breast cancer.
Professor Sir Mike Stratton at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, U.K., is heading a team of researchers in the U.K., U.S., and France, who aim to uncover lifestyle and environmental factors that may be responsible for causing cancers that carry specific mutational fingerprints. The researchers will study some 5000 pancreatic, kidney, esophageal, and bowel cancer samples from patients across five continents in parallel with epidemiological data. The researcher hope that their project, titled “Mutographs of Cancer: Discovering the Causes of Cancer through Mutational Signatures,” will provide new insights into behavioral and environmental causes of cancer. The team has been granted £20 million ($25 million) in Grand Challenge funding.
Researchers in The Netherlands, the U.K., and the U.S. are studying tumor samples and clinical data from women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) with the goal of identifying biomarkers that indicate patients who are most likely to develop breast cancer, and those who can be spared unnecessary therapy. The project, “Prevent Ductal Carcinoma In Situ Invasive Overtreatment”, is headed by Jelle Wesseling, M.D., Ph.D., at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, and has been awarded £15 million ($18.7 million).
Another £15 million in Grand Challenge funding has been awarded to a multidisciplinary team in the U.K. and U.S. to develop a standardized approach for mapping tumors in exquisite detail, down to individual the cells, cell metabolites, and microenvironments. Josephine Bunch, Ph.D., at the National Physical Laboratory in the U.K., will head the transatlantic team of chemists, physicists, and biologists in the development of new mass spectrometry imaging technology for studying individual breast, bowel, and pancreatic tumors. The researchers will make their resulting database available to scientists globally. The project is titled, “A Complete Cartography of Cancer through Molecular Imaging.”
CRUK claims to be the world’s largest not-for-profit cancer research organization and the biggest independent funder of cancer research in the world. The organization has spent $4.3 billion on research over the last 10 years. Earlier this week, CRUKs commercialization arm, Cancer Research Technology, and University College, London (UCL) inked a global license and collaboration deal with Tusk Therapeutics centered on developing antibody-based therapeutics against a target that plays a role in immunosuppression in cancer. The technology originates from CRUK-funded research at UCL.