A ‘rule book’ to guide precision combination immunotherapies and speed up the development of new lung cancer treatments will be created as part of a collaboration between the Crick, Cancer Research UK and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
The new £2.4m research project called RUBICON - a rule book and immune atlas for combination therapy – will map out the immunology of lung cancer in detail.
The study will be led by Crick Group Leader Professor Charlie Swanton, who is also Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician. He said: “Biological therapies, including immunotherapies are set to transform the way we treat patients and the RUBICON study will bring us a step closer to this vision.
“When we see patients with hard to treat cancers like lung, we struggle to keep up with the speed at which tumours evolve, become aggressive and resistant to treatment. Our research so far has uncovered many of cancer’s evolutionary secrets, opening opportunities for us to develop new and targeted biological therapies, and understand how they can be combined to maximum effect.
“By learning more about immune suppressive cell types – the molecules they express and how stable they are during disease evolution – we hope researchers can start to develop molecularly targeted immunotherapy combination strategies.”
The innovative project builds on Cancer Research UK’s strategic investment in lung cancer, enhancing our understanding of cancer evolution through tumour samples and data prospectively gathered and analysed as part of the TRACERx and PEACE studies. These projects, led by Charlie's team, involve genetically analysing lung cancer samples from patients and autopsies.
Multidisciplinary reseachers at the Crick, from the labs of Charlie Swanton, Erik Sahai and Julian Downward, will use state of the art technologies including deep learning and artificial intelligence to analyse tumour samples and data from TRACERx and PEACE. This will allow them to map an atlas of immune cell activity across distinct tumour regions, and to understand how the incredibly complex tumour immune microenvironment evolves and develops over time.
Veronique Birault, Head of Translation at the Francis Crick Institute, said: “This project is a fantastic example of the industry and charity sectors working together to support world-class discovery science for the benefit of patients. The project wouldn’t be possible without Cancer Research UK’s significant investment in research, amplified by the complementary expertise of three different cancer labs collaborating at the Crick. This new funding will allow our scientists to map out the immune landscape around lung tumours to develop better combination therapies for patients.”
Dr Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said: “We’re pleased to bring together these partners of industry and academia to advance this ambitious study. As we delve ever deeper into the tumour microenvironment, we can equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge to take the next steps toward truly personalised cancer treatments.
“Lung cancer is a disease for which there has been very little improvement in patient survival over the last 40 years. We look forward to seeing how new treatment combinations that arise from this study could make a real difference for these patients.”
Bristol-Myers Squibb will provide £2.4 million in funding for the RUBICON project.
“Bristol-Myers Squibb is proud to be part of this innovative research initiative. We look for first-class science everywhere and we know that continued progress in cancer can only happen through strong collaboration with scientists, academic researchers, clinicians and patients who participated in clinical trials,” said Tom Lynch, M.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, Bristol-Myers Squibb.
“The UK has a strong heritage in cutting edge research and, through this RUBICON project, we believe further progress will be made for lung cancer patients across the world.”