You may not know it, but one of your neighbours is a world leader in cancer research. Based right here in Chelsea, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is a charity, a higher education institution, and one of the world’s most influential cancer research organisations.
Since it was founded in 1909, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has helped transform our understanding of cancer and, importantly, how it can be treated.
In fact, ICR researchers today discover more new cancer drugs than any other academic centre in the world – truly living up to their mission to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. One area in which ICR scientists have had a major impact is ovarian cancer – one of the most common cancers affecting women in the UK, with more than 7,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Over the last four decades, ICR research has greatly improved treatment for women with ovarian cancer – giving them more time with their loved ones and a better quality of life.
ICR researchers helped discover the chemotherapy drug carboplatin, which is a mainstay of standard treatment for ovarian cancer today. Since then, they have played a big role in creating kinder, more effective drug treatments, that are personalised to a woman’s genetics.
The ICR discovered one of the best known of all cancer genes, BRCA2, which when damaged can cause breast and ovarian cancer. This work has led to many women with ovarian cancer receiving genetic testing for mutations to the BRCA genes, helping guide their treatment, and to provide genetic advice to their families.
One treatment that is especially effective in women with BRCA mutations is a drug called olaparib. It was the ICR that discovered how to help women with these mutations benefit from olaparib – leading to it becoming the first ever cancer drug to be approved specifically for patients with inherited cancer genes. Thanks to the ICR’s research, olaparib is now available on the NHS.
In future, women with ovarian cancer could have further treatment options available to them, thanks to research going on right now at the ICR. Professor Udai Banerji is leading a team that is developing a new, targeted drug for ovarian cancer that works in a completely different way to any other existing drug.
Initial results from the first trial of this experimental drug, discovered at the ICR, made a big impact at one of the world’s biggest cancer conferences last year, showing not only that the drug was safe but that it had highly promising signs of effectiveness.
With more work under way all the time to identify new treatments and maximise the benefits patients get from existing ones, ICR research is helping more women than ever before survive the disease. Lesley Torun, 65, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May 2017. She was treated with carboplatin, a chemotherapy drug that was discovered at the ICR.
“By the end of my treatment I had no evidence of disease, which was amazing. My side effects were less severe than with other chemotherapies and I kept my hair.”
After diagnosis Lesley found out that both she and her daughter have the BRCA2 gene mutation. “Now myself and my daughter undergo regular checks, which without this knowledge we wouldn’t be able to do. “Research into drugs like carboplatin was a life saver for me and is invaluable.”