Our impact: Novel Cancer Therapeutics

The BRC’s primary aim is to rapidly translate biomedical research into practice-changing developments through the combined expertise of The Royal Marsden and the ICR. 

Both The Royal Marsden and the ICR have a long history of developing new and much needed treatments for cancer and the joint The Oak Foundation  Drug Development Unit (DDU), led by the Novel Cancer Therapeutics Theme Leader Professor Johann de Bono, leads much of the research into novel cancer therapeutics.

Our expertise and support from the BRC, has brought a number of notable new drugs from the lab to the clinic including abiraterone, which is now a standard treatment option for patients with prostate cancer.

New treatment developed for breast cancer patients

Professor Udai Banerji, the Deputy Director of the Drug Development Unit, has led the development of a new ‘two-in-one’ drug which can extend life for women with HER2-positive breast cancer by 7.6 months.

The new treatment is formed by linking together a chemotherapy drug called duocarmycin and Herceptin, a drug which specifically targets cancer cells that have high levels of a molecule called HER2. Combining these two drugs means that the chemotherapy is delivered directly to the HER-2 positive cancer cells, preventing damage to the surrounding healthy cells and tissues.

The Royal Marsden and the ICR were the UK leads on the first-in-human trials for this new drug in 2016 and it has since gained FDA breakthrough designation.

HER2-positive breast cancers account for around 25% of all breast cancers and can be more aggressive and more likely to develop resistance than other cancers.

Multi-purpose medicines

Professor Banerji has also led the development of the ICR discovered drug, SRA737, which has shown promising results for patients with anogenital cancers in several international Phase I/II clinical trials.

The new drug targets a protein called CHK1, which has a role in helping cancer cells to tolerate damage to their DNA. It was discovered and initially developed by ICR scientists with partners Cancer Research UK and Sareum and is now being taken forward by Sierra Oncology and is an excellent example of an innovative, highly targeted treatment.

Further studies are underway to confirm the effectiveness of SRA737 and to investigate whether other cancer types can benefit from this drug in combination with other treatments.

The Drug Development Unit was also behind the clinical development of a new drug for ovarian cancer, called CT900, which has been successfully licensed to pharmaceutical company Carrick Therapeutics to take into late stage clinical trials. CT900 was discovered by the ICR’s Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and is the first of its kind.

Dr Susana Banerjee, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden, will lead the Phase III trial, which aims to establish whether CT900 is an effective treatment in ovarian cancer patients for whom chemotherapy has failed.

The Drug Development Unit also led the first-in-human trial of capivasertib, funded by AstraZeneca with sites at Manchester BRC and in the Netherlands. Capivasertib is an AKT inhibitor and was discovered and developed through collaborative research programmes between the ICR and pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Astex. Capivasertib is now being tested in three late stage clinical trials in breast and prostate cancers.