Oxford scientists lead the way in cutting-edge cancer research

Oxford scientists will play a key role in ground-breaking research into new radiotherapy and immunotherapy treatments for cancer patients following a multi-million pound investment.

Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre will be collaborating with scientists across the UK, following the announcement today of the charity’s Centres’ Network Accelerator Awards. The awards provide infrastructure support, facilitate collaboration, and boost ‘bench to bedside’ science.

Designed to inspire new approaches to beating cancer, the awards will invest around £16 million UK-wide over the next five years.

More than £4 million of that money will be invested in a study looking into innovative new radiotherapy technologies and the best ways to use them, helping to discover which patients will benefit the most from these pioneering methods.

Researchers in Oxford will join forces with scientists from Leeds, Manchester and London, working together to find out how best to use new radiotherapy machines, including stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, image-guided radiotherapy, and proton beam therapy.

The research will include patients with hard to treat oesophageal and lung cancers, for which survival remains low.

A further £3.9 million will be invested into developing cutting-edge research into innovative immunotherapies, which work by ‘waking up’ the patient’s immune system and harnessing its power to kill cancer.

Again, experts from Oxford will work alongside colleagues from the Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in the USA on the ground-breaking research.

Professor Tim Maughan, Clinical Director of the Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology and Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Networking Lead, is the lead researcher for the study at the University of Oxford, which could help to save the lives of more people with cancer in the city – and across the UK – in the future.

He said: “We’re delighted to be a part of this grant from Cancer Research UK to help further our understanding of new radiotherapy technologies which are more precise at targeting tumours. This vital investment will help us to provide the evidence we need to improve radiotherapy services across the UK.

“Currently, we don’t know how best to use new radiotherapy techniques or the full benefits they can offer, so we simply don’t know which patients should be getting them.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see radiotherapy becoming even more precisely targeted so we can give bigger doses in fewer treatments. Not only is this quicker and easier for patients, but it’s more effective at destroying cancer too.”

Professor Mark Middleton, who is based at the University of Oxford, is Lead Cancer Clinician for the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre.

He said: “We’re delighted to be a part of this grant from Cancer Research UK to help further our understanding of how immunotherapies work. This investment is vital to help us improve on these treatments and help avoid any unnecessary side effects for patients.

“We need to understand why immunotherapies can be so successful in treating some people – making even advanced cancer vanish without a trace – but not as effective in others.

“Research such as this could ultimately lead to better ways to tailor treatment to individuals, giving them the best possible chance to beat their cancer.”

Cancer Research UK’s Centres’ Network Accelerator Awards will invest a total of around £16 million in four ground-breaking projects – including the radiotherapy and immunotherapy studies – which are helping to speed up advances in research into hard to treat cancers.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director for research funding at Cancer Research UK, said: “Effective partnerships are crucial for delivering the greatest science and boosting advancements in fighting cancer.

“We’re excited to be investing in collaborative and innovative research in Oxford and across the UK. It’s by working together and uniting expertise that we will accelerate cutting-edge research and save more lives.”