New Partnership Announcements

The Centre is excited to announce two large new partnerships in cancer research that will build on the world class, innovative work already taking place across Oxford today. Though administered through the Department of Oncology – these developments will impact research across our membership.

Greg Clark MP, Professor Gillies McKenna, Director of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre, and Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, formally announced the Precision Cancer Medicine Institute (PMCI) on Thursday.
Through a £35m grant from grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and over £75m of investment in financial contributions and support in kind from partners in the project, the PCMI will ensure Oxford is able to undertake cutting edge research to further understanding of the genetic and molecular changes underlying a patient’s tumour, as well as trials of novel cancer drugs and the latest in surgery, advanced cancer imaging, and proton beam therapy.

The proposed partners include Cancer Research UK; Roche Diagnostics; GE Healthcare; Mirada Medical; Brandon Medical; Blue Earth Diagnostics; and the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute. It is proposed that there will be a significant investment in the operation of a proton beam research facility within the new institute by ProNova Solutions, the intended US supplier of the proton beam equipment. All of the partners have been working closely with the team at the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre to come together and create a new institute that will play a leading role in research in the future.

Professor Gillies McKenna, Director of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre, said: ‘The Precision Cancer Medicine Institute aims to improve outcomes and increase cure rates for cancer patients. It will do this not only by making surgery and radiotherapy more precise and less invasive, but by designing new drug treatments that are more targeted and personalised to the characteristics of a patient’s particular tumour, and by using advanced imaging techniques to detect the earliest signs of response. Through the new institute we aim to undertake research that will help doctors get the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time.’

Cancer patients from Oxfordshire and nationwide will be able to participate in research studies in state-of-the-art facilities under the guidance of leading clinicians. During his visit to the Old Road Campus, Greg Clark commented: ‘Britain already punches above its weight in science and innovation globally. It’s only right that we harness this ability in the fight against cancer. This £110 million investment will help fund lifesaving research and create jobs.’

A new building to house the PCMI is likely to be constructed at the Churchill Hospital / Old Road Campus site in Oxford, but no firm decision has been made on a location.

Alongside the PCMI announcement, the creation of the Chan Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre for Molecular Medicine was also confirmed yesterday. A research partnership between the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine in the USA and the University of Oxford will create a new centre where the latest techniques to characterise tumour samples from patients in order to understand the particular genetic and molecular changes underlying that patient’s cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma can take place.

The new Chan Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre is likely to be housed within the PCMI, where the clinical applications of its research will take place. It will work in close collaboration with the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.
The Chan Soon-Shiong Institute has made an initial commitment of $50m (£31.2m) to advance these approaches to cancer medicine in the UK. Of this, $35m (£21.9m) in funding over eight years will establish the new research centre at Oxford University, supporting research and research positions. In addition, the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute will purchase $15m (£9.4m) worth of research equipment and data systems infrastructure in the UK, to which the University will be provided access.

The data will also provide a rich resource for cancer research, drive the development of new drugs and enable more ‘stratified medicine’ (where clinical trials are carried out in groups of patients that may be more likely to respond to a new treatment because of the particular characteristics of their cancer).

Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder and chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine, said: ‘Along with the University of Oxford, we are living our commitment to clinicians and patients alike. Using the most advanced, sophisticated tools imaginable, we’re on a mission to solve the mystery of cancer, and establish an adaptive learning system where the power of one can inform many. The infrastructure to manage big data must be established to enable a national network of clinical scientists in the UK and a portion of the $50m commitment will be used to fund the capital needs to ensure that patients throughout England could benefit from this genomic platform, with the remaining $35m provided to support the operations of the Chan Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre for Molecular Medicine at Oxford.’

These two new partnerships will work together with the Centre to deliver a vision of improved patient outcomes and help to place Oxford’s cancer research in a world-leading position well into the future.

Reverse The Odds, Play Now!

Anne Kiltie and her team here in the CRUK Oxford Centre are working on bladder cancer, looking at new ways of combining radiotherapy treatments with drugs that hijack how cancer cells handle damage to their DNA. But they’re also interested in ‘biomarkers’ – molecules found in cancer cells that offer a red flag for how a cell may behave based on the amount produced by the cell, or in the case of molecules that drive cancer growth, whether or not these marker molecules are inappropriately ‘switched-on’. This interest stems from an important treatment decision facing people whose bladder cancer has begun to spread into the muscle of the bladder wall – should they opt for surgery to remove their bladder, or a course of radiotherapy? Both treatments have their challenges and long term implications for patients. “It’s actually a life-changing event for them,” Anne explains. But information to help make this decision is lacking.

Crucially, Anne’s team are scouring tumour samples for biomarkers that could indicate whether a patient will respond better to surgery or radiotherapy. Something she hopes will help make the treatment decision a little easier, and ultimately improve survival for people with bladder cancer in the future. But to do this they need to test a lot of potential biomarkers in a lot of bladder cancer samples. And this is where Anne – along with other researchers working on different types of cancer – hopes that the launch of Reverse The Odds can help.

“We have over 800 samples from more than 300 bladder cancer patients,” says Anne. The team takes tiny pieces of these tumour samples – known as ‘cores’ – and sets them in blocks of wax so they can cut extremely thin slices of the samples to image on a microscope. The researchers take these slices and use special dyes to highlight key proteins found inside the cells that the team think may make good biomarkers for bladder cancer. And it’s these coloured images that will feature in the game.

The true power of Citizen Science comes from the sheer number of people analysing the samples. Anne told CRUK that analysing the images largely depends on pattern recognition, something the human eye is particularly good at. But you don’t need to be a “qualified pathologist or experienced scientist” to do this, she added. “Normally three of us would look at the images, but the great impact that Citizen Scientists have is that rather than just having three of them, we potentially have thousands of them, so any slight variations can be ironed out.”

The images will also been seen by lots of people, and the more people that play the game the more accurate the consensus will be. And as Anne points out, there are some important accuracy checks in place along the way: “We are going to score 10 per cent of the samples ourselves to check we get the same results as our Citizen Scientists. We’ve already seen encouraging results from our early tests of the game,” she adds.

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Reverse The Odds has been commissioned by Channel 4 as part of Stand Up To Cancer, and was developed in collaboration with Maverick Television’s multiplatform team and Chunk.

Source CRUK Science Blog