Drug Discovery in Action

05 April 2021

Read about three trials of exciting new cancer drugs that demonstrate the joint ‘bench to bedside’ approach of The Royal Marsden and the ICR.

Dr David Taussig, Consultant Haematologist
Pictured: Dr David Taussig, Consultant Haematologist at The Royal Marsden

The ICR and The Royal Marsden are renowned for their work in the discovery and development of new cancer drugs, having collectively been involved in nearly a quarter of all drugs licensed for the treatment of cancer in Europe since 2000.

Among the most challenging moments in the development of a new drug can be the early stage clinical trials needed to prove their safety. The NIHR BRC helps to facilitate these early trials and move drugs closer to the point where their effectiveness is proven and they are approved by regulators for use in widespread treatment.

Resistance-busting drugs

One recently launched trial at The Royal Marsden is led by Consultant Haematologist Dr David Taussig, an expert in blood cancers with an interest in acute myeloid leukaemia.

“It’s incredibly challenging to develop drugs for acute myeloid leukaemia, as the disease is often aggressive and prone to resistance,” Dr Taussig explains. “Survival rates are currently poor for many patients.”

But a new drug could provide an urgently needed new option. Provisionally called EP0042 and discovered at the ICR – meaning it was designed and first made there – it blocks the activity of two cancer-causing proteins at once. It is now being trialled under a partnership with the drug development company Ellipses Pharma.

“EP0042 is an example of the collaborative ‘bench to bedside’ approach of The Royal Marsden and the ICR,” says Dr Taussig.

Tackling children's cancers

The power of this collaboration is clear when it comes to clinical trials of new drugs for childhood drugs. Professor Louis Chesler, Professor of Paediatric Cancer Biology at the ICR and a consultant at The Royal
Marsden, is leading a trial of the targeted drug fadraciclib – again, discovered by scientists at the ICR – in neuroblastoma.

“Our study opens up the potential to treat children with aggressive cancers, such as neuroblastoma, with a class of targeted medicines that may be smarter and kinder than existing options,” says Professor Chesler.

Trial success

These drugs are just two of about 10 discovered at the ICR to enter clinical trials at The Royal Marsden in the past 15 years. But researchers at the ICR and The Royal Marsden also also work with companies to develop their new cancer treatments.

Professor Udai Banerji, Deputy Director of Drug Development at the ICR and The Royal Marsden, is leading the trial of one such drug, under development by Verastem Oncology and provisionally called VS-6766.

Early results show that it could successfully target cancers in patients with mutations to the key KRAS gene. Although this is one of the most commonly mutated genes in cancer, there are no targeted therapies for the majority of KRAS-driven diseases. 

“We are conducting further studies combining this drug with other novel treatments, and hope we can open the door to new options for patients with this hard-to-treat group of cancers,” says Professor Banerji.

Cancer patients urgently need new drugs that work in new ways. The BRC helps to create an environment in which patients are the first in the world to benefit from innovative drugs, thanks to the partnership between The Royal Marsden and the ICR and their combined excellence in collaborating with
the pharmaceutical industry.