MRC innovation funding to tackle hard-to-treat cancers

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has announced a new £2 million investment supporting researchers to understand and treat cancers with exceptionally poor survival rates, including of the brain, lung and oesophagus. Four research innovation teams will each receive £500,000 to work across disciplines on high-risk, high-reward projects towards improving outcomes of hard-to-treat cancers.

The projects were selected following a two-day ‘sandpit’ event designed to promote new conversations and create teams of researchers across scientific disciplines from clinical, biomedical, engineering, physical and data sciences. The teams co-developed innovative ideas and solutions to advance cancer research including for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

One of the successful projects, to be led by Tim Witney at Kings College London, will take forward research on using artificial intelligence to read lung scans and more accurately predict whether a cancer is resistant to treatment. This data will then be used to create targeted drugs that selectively kill treatment-resistant cancer cells.

Another project, this time led by Sara Valpione, The University of Manchester and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, will explore ways to optimise engineered nanoparticle therapeutics for oesophageal cancer. Researchers hope to target cells that hinder effectiveness of medicines that boost the immune system against cancer.

Dr Megan Dowie, MRC’s Head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, said: “We look forward to supporting the teams towards achieving real-world impacts, both in a clinical setting and the real hope they may ultimately be able to offer to those suffering from some of the most challenging cancer diagnoses.

“We were inspired by the success of the sandpit event. The many new interdisciplinary connections formed over the two-days will have a lasting legacy of future collaboration of life and physical sciences researchers. This will help achieve the step change we need to address hard-to-treat cancers with potential for translation to other types of cancer too.”

Additionally, a team led by Philippe Wilson at Nottingham Trent University has received a £50,000 pump-priming grant to develop a proof-of-concept lateral flow test for the early detection of brain tumour recurrence, suitable for future patient self-administration. The funding will allow these teams to further the ideas developed at the sandpit for possible future funding.


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