Drug Development Unit

The Drug Development Unit is a joint unit of The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research. The unit is supported by Cancer Research UK, an Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) grant, and a core grant from the Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and the ICR.

Nurse talking with a patient

The aim of the Drug Development Unit is to provide a pathway from preclinical drug discovery to proof-of-principle Phase I trials and the evaluation of novel targeted treatments. It is also designed to drive collaboration between laboratory-based and clinical teams.

The unit treats close to 300 patients a year on Phase I trials, making it one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world.

The DDU has a focus on ‘molecularly-targeted treatments’, where drugs are matched to the particular molecular features of a patient’s tumour. Staff at the DDU can molecularly profile patients entering Phase I studies by detecting mutations in tumours and in the blood.

Patients with specific tumour mutations are stratified onto trials that target the mutation of interest. Selecting patients in this way increases the likelihood that they will benefit from early-phase clinical trials. The eventual aim is fully personalised medicine, with drugs exploiting the specific weaknesses of a tumour at a particular point in time.

The Drug Development Unit is run by Professor Johann de Bono, Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at The Institute of Cancer Research and a Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden.

Priorities for clinical trials run in the DDU are:

  • Drugs discovered at the ICR
  • First-in-man studies and first-in-man combinations of drugs
  • Trials in our areas of expertise (for example targeting HSP90 and the IGF signalling pathway)
  • Hypothesis-testing studies with biomarkers.

The Drug Development Unit recruits to an average of 25 trials each year and opens 12-14 new studies each year. As of December 2014 there were 31 trials open to recruitment at the DDU and seven trials ongoing but closed to recruitment.