Crick key partner in £14m cancer biotherapeutics research centre

T cells

A microscopic view of a patient’s T cells that have been engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) so that they can recognise and fight cancer. 

- John Maher

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute will play a leading role in a new world class hub for cancer biotherapeutics, which has been launched by Cancer Research UK.

The Cancer Research UK City of London Centre brings together world leading researchers from the Crick, UCL, King’s College London and Queen Mary University of London. 

Cancer Research UK's significant £14 million investment in the Centre will enable London to become a global centre of excellence for biotherapeutics, a pioneering field of cancer research.

"By collaborating creatively with our university and hospital partners, we will secure the UK’s position as a world-leader in cancer biotherapeutics, bringing enormous benefits to cancer patients and their families," says Paul Nurse, director of the Crick. 

Cancer patients over large parts of the capital, including some of the most deprived areas of the city, will have the opportunity to take part in pioneering research as part of their treatment. Around 14 million people are covered by the NHS trusts within UCL Partners and Kings Health Partners, and will be set to have access to the very latest innovations in biological cancer therapies.

Charlie Swanton, Crick group leader and Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, says: “We believe that, in the future, the biotherapeutics field will transform cancer care. However, there are several research challenges still to tackle. We need to understand why some patients respond to these new treatments while others don’t, and how to identify which patients might experience harmful side effects. Most importantly, we need to optimise their activity to offer more patients access to these therapies who may benefit. With this substantial new funding and world leading expertise, the Cancer Research UK City of London Centre is especially well placed to deliver on these promises.

“We now know more about the genetic diversity within tumours, how they evolve, and the body’s immune response to cancer, than ever before. There’s a huge opportunity to use this knowledge to develop novel biological therapies that combat tumour evolution and to inform how best to use them in combination with other cancer treatments.”

Biotherapeutics are any type of treatment that is produced by, involves, or manipulates living cells. These therapies are based on biological processes in cells, which we can engineer to help fight cancer. For example, immunotherapy has transformed our ability to treat some types of cancer, harnessing the body’s own powerful immune system to eliminate cancer cells.

The City of London Centre will gather expertise from each partner institution including specialists in imaging, clinical trials and tumour evolution. Research will span all cancer types, including a focus on childhood cancers. There has been recent progress treating children with immunotherapies and researchers hope to extend this success to even more patients so that everyone, regardless of age or cancer type, can benefit from the latest innovations in treatment.

In addition to accelerating the development of some of the most promising cancer research studies in the capital, the centre will also provide multiple new opportunities for collaboration and training. This is the first time that these leading London institutions have partnered to tackle cancer on such a large scale.

Peter Parker, Crick group leader and centre lead at King's College London says: “Biotherapies in the form of immune interventions are revolutionising cancer treatments in some cancer patients. These exceptional accomplishments bring a compelling need to dig deeper into the underlying principles that bring success to these approaches, in order to develop a wider spectrum of interventions that deliver improved outcomes to a much greater population of cancer patients.

“The strategic alignment, concerted training and sharing of resources with our City of London Centre partners is crucial to delivering on this complex agenda, allowing us to exploit collectively the extensive capabilities and pioneering therapeutic approaches that King’s and our City of London Centre partners have fostered over the last 15 years. This initiative is a watershed for cancer patients in London and far beyond.”

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