Dr Maria Groves has been the Head of the Cancer Research UK-MedImmune Alliance Laboratory (CMAL) since its launch. This World Cancer Day, we hear about the areas of cancer research that the industry-academic collaboration is helping to advance, and what she hopes the next 10 years will bring.
The Cancer Research UK-MedImmune Alliance Laboratory (CMAL) in Cambridge is one of the preeminent industry-charity collaborative labs in the country: it brings together Cancer Research UK, the world's leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research, and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca.
I have been the Head of CMAL for two years and lead a team of scientists working together on multiple cutting-edge oncology research projects. In this unique collaboration, Cancer Research UK has access to MedImmune capabilities and technologies to help them expand their biologics discovery expertise and develop pre-clinical candidates, while MedImmune benefits from access to CRUK's academic network of scientists who propose ideas for disease targets to the laboratory.
We collaborate with academia with the goal of discovering and developing novel antibody therapies and diagnostics for the treatment of cancer, providing an opportunity for oncology researchers to accelerate the translation of their research into the clinic.
Ultimately, the alliance is about cancer patient benefit and getting new biotherapeutic drugs into the clinic. With a focus on novel therapies for rare and hard to treat cancers, our current projects include therapeutic antibodies for the treatment of leukaemia, cervical cancer and pancreatic cancer.
The lab is also supportive of proposals for diagnostic and tool antibodies against cancer targets. For example, we are working to isolate antibodies which will enable diagnosis of brain tumours. In addition, we are in the process of setting up a new initiative within the laboratory which will help us to find novel targets and novel therapies against the most intractable types of cancer.
CMAL is reaping the benefits of academic outreach into networks of incredibly knowledgeable scientists who have committed their working lives to understanding cancer and finding ways to beat it. These scientists are providing new insights into the mechanisms cancer uses to prevent a patient's natural immune/repair response from obliterating the disease. CMAL's job is to work with these scientists on their novel disease targets and quickly translate ideas into medicines.
Our understanding of how to beat cancer is growing rapidly.
Cancer immunotherapy is a new approach to cancer, for example, which has the potential to transform patient therapy and survival rates. In the past, cancer patients have been treated by surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, but with these new medicines, a patient's own immune system can potentially be switched on to kill, deactivate or remove cancer cells.
Another significant development is an approach called personalised health care (PHC). Not all cancer patients respond to a therapy and it is important that we administer the right cancer drug to the right patient so that they can be treated effectively. Oncologists are now looking to understand the biology of the disease for each individual patient (and targeted therapy). With PHC new medicines are being developed alongside a companion diagnostic kit which will identify those patients most likely to respond to new therapy.
In order to come closer to a cure for all types of cancer we need to concentrate on three areas. From a research angle, we need to discover all of the key genes involved in different types of cancer and find targeted therapies to block them, and prevent cancer cells from escaping therapy by using clever combinations of medicines. We also need to ensure the required medicines and companion diagnostic tests are readily available as affordable routine care.
Our best chance of achieving significant progress for cancer research is through collaboration. CMAL offers a bridge which supports the translation of novel academic science into medicines for cancer patients. We hope that in the next 10 years we will have played a significant role in fast-tracking a number of transformational cancer therapies into the clinic.
To learn more about the CRUK-MEDI Alliance Laboratory, their mission and their Governance, or to find out how to apply for access to the lab visit the CMAL website.