Life-saving London cancer research recognised with blue plaques

Life-saving London cancer research recognised with blue plaques

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Images by ICR / ProfotoDesign

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, has been recognised for its many successes in discovering new cancer drugs through the award of two blue plaques under the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemical Landmark scheme.

One blue plaque will be on display in Chelsea and another in Sutton, for each site of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).

They mark the role the ICR has played in cancer drug discovery from the 1950s until the present day – including the discovery of chemotherapy drug carboplatin, prostate cancer drug abiraterone and the genetic targeting of olaparib for ovarian and breast cancer.

Chemical Landmarks are publicly visible distinctive blue plaques – similar to the English Heritage plaques found on many famous buildings – and aim to give an insight into chemistry’s relevance to everyday lives.

They recognise sites where the chemical sciences have made a significant contribution to health, wealth, or quality of life. Since the scheme’s inception in 1999, the Royal Society of Chemistry has awarded more than 50 chemical landmarks, including four international landmarks.

Previous plaques, for example, recognise Dorothy Hodgkin’s Nobel prize-winning work in Oxford and the discovery of ibuprofen at Boots research laboratories in Nottingham.

The ICR has been rated as the world’s leading academic organisation in the field of cancer drug discovery, and the most successful higher education institution in the UK at earning invention income from its science. Royalties from ICR discoveries are ploughed back into the organisation’s research for the benefit of cancer patients.

Since 2005 the ICR has discovered 20 new targeted cancer drugs and taken nine into clinical trials. Through its close partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, the ICR is able to ensure rapid transfer of research discoveries to patients.

Abiraterone, a highly innovative drug for advanced prostate cancer discovered at the ICR, was approved for use on the NHS in 2012 and has extended the lives of hundreds of thousands of men around the world.

The ICR’s science also underpinned the development of olaparib for women with ovarian cancer with BRCA mutations – firstly through the discovery of the BRCA2 gene, and subsequently by showing that BRCA-mutant tumours were particularly susceptible to the new treatment. Olaparib was approved for advanced ovarian cancer in Europe and the US in 2014, and earlier this year was approved in the US for women with advanced breast cancer.

As well as being the leading higher education institution in the UK for research quality and impact the ICR is also a charity, and relies on support from partner organisations, donors and the general public.

The ICR was honoured to have Dr Beverley Weston – the widow of Professor Ken Harrap – present at the unveiling in Chelsea. Professor Harrap was central to the discovery of carboplatin and led the ICR’s Cancer Therapeutics Division, which is responsible for much of the ICR’s drug discovery research, until his retirement in 1997.

Dr Weston worked at the ICR from 1966 to 1974 and, together with the Downland Section of the Royal Society of Chemistry, she initiated the application process for this award in recognition of the ICR’s drug discovery work.

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“The award of Chemical Landmarks plaques from the Royal Society of Chemistry is a great recognition of the impact that ICR scientists, past and present, have made in drug discovery, to transform the lives of many patients with cancer.

“Being able to display these distinctive blue plaques on our sites in Chelsea and Sutton will be a wonderful way to raise the profile of our work across our local communities – and I hope will engage a new audience in the important work we do.”

Professor Dominic Tildesley, former President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, who attended the unveiling ceremony to mark the award of the plaques, said:

“Almost everyone has some experience with cancer – through their family, friends or themselves. It’s a word no-one wants to hear, but it’s vital to talk about it. Fortunately, part of the reason we’re here today is that advances in science, medicine and society mean that more people are surviving more cancers than at any other time in history.

“Today’s landmark, of course, celebrates just not this location, but a network of several places all working together for a common purpose. This, I think, reflects beautifully the global chemistry community – collaborating across disciplines, and across borders, to improve the lives of people around the world, now and in the future.”

Find out more about the ICR’s achievements in discovering new cancer drugs at icr.ac.uk/discovery

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