Crick team awarded $1m to tackle cancer drug resistance

Julian Downward, Principal Group Leader of the Oncogene Biology Laboratory at the Crick, has been awarded $1m over three years from the Novartis Global Scholars Program (NGSP) to study drug resistance in cancer.

Julian’s team works on understanding how the molecular signals received by cells make them grow and multiply, and how disruptions in these signals can lead to cancer. Finding out how to disrupt or switch off these signals could be a powerful way to treat cancer.

Julian Downward at the Crick
I am delighted to receive this generous funding from Novartis, who share our interest in finding radical approaches to tackle the fundamental issue of drug resistance in cancer treatment.
Julian Downward

One of the biggest issues holding back progress in cancer treatment is that often tumours develop resistance to drugs targeting major cancer-causing genes, limiting their long-term impact.

Julian’s team studies lung cancer in mice induced by a cancer-causing gene called KRAS. They recreate tumours in which a minor subpopulation of cancer cells is resistant to drugs targeting KRAS and investigate what happens to these cells when the bulk population of drug-sensitive cancer cells are killed by a KRAS inhibitor.

They have found that, with treatment, the tumour’s ability to suppress the body’s immune system, driven by KRAS signals, breaks down, leading to exposure of the drug-resistant cancer cells to immune attack.

The lab will use this funding to study the treatment potential of combining drugs targeting specific cancer genes and boosting the immune system with immunotherapy drugs.

Julian said: “Cancer treatments can often leave some drug-resistant cells present in a tumour, causing relapse or a poor response to treatment. The future of cancer treatment will likely lie in a multifactorial approach, targeting many different aspects of the tumour at once. I am delighted to receive this generous funding from Novartis, who share our interest in finding radical approaches to tackle the fundamental issue of drug resistance in cancer treatment.”

The NGSP is a programme designed to give researchers support for breakthrough science which might not be covered within traditional grant support. It focuses on innovative research which gets us a step closer to new drugs for different diseases. 

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