• £110m Precision Cancer Medicine Institute to be established, with £35m Hefce grant
• New institute will include research on the use of proton beam therapy
• £22m Centre for Molecular Medicine to focus on cancer genomics and molecular diagnostics, through a partnership with the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute
23 Oct 2014
Two large new research partnerships will see Oxford University take the very latest cancer research forward.
It will see major new research programmes in understanding the genetic and molecular changes underlying a patient's tumour, as well as trials of novel cancer drugs and the latest in surgery and proton beam therapy.
The aim is to understand how making cancer treatments less invasive and more directed to the characteristics of the patient's own tumour could improve cure rates. Cancer patients from Oxfordshire and nationwide will be able to participate in research studies in state-of-the-art facilities under the guidance of leading clinicians.
Precision Cancer Medicine Institute
A £110m cancer research institute is to be established at Oxford University, a development spurred by a £35m grant from the UK government.
The Precision Cancer Medicine Institute will carry out research into a wide range of cancer therapies, including advanced cancer imaging, trials of new drugs, minimally invasive surgery and proton beam therapy.
Scientists will now work to establish the new institute with a £35m grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) through its UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (RPIF). This is to be matched with over £75 million of investment in financial contributions and support in kind from partners in the project.
The proposed partners include Cancer Research UK; Roche Diagnostics; GE Healthcare; Mirada Medical; Brandon Medical; Blue Earth Diagnostics; and the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute.
It is proposed that there will be a significant investment in the operation of a proton beam research facility within the new institute by ProNova Solutions, the intended US supplier of the proton beam equipment.
The establishment of the Precision Cancer Medicine Institute at the University of Oxford also carries the important support of the Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Trust.
Professor Gillies McKenna, head of the Department of Oncology at Oxford University, said: 'The Precision Cancer Medicine Institute aims to improve outcomes and increase cure rates for cancer patients. It will do this not only by making surgery and radiotherapy more precise and less invasive, but by designing new drug treatments that are more targeted and personalised to the characteristics of a patient's particular tumour, and by using advanced imaging techniques to detect the earliest signs of response. Through the new institute we aim to undertake research that will help doctors get the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time.'
The institute is changing the model for the development of new cancer treatments by focussing on patients with early-stage cancers that may currently have a poor prognosis, with the aim of improving outcomes and cure rates.
Trials of novel drugs and targeted treatments will be carried out in early-stage cancer patients alongside the standard treatment they are receiving, in what are called 'window-of-opportunity' trials. A patient volunteering to participate in a trial would receive a new cancer drug in the weeks off they might have from the chemotherapy and surgery they are being prescribed. This allows comparisons to see if the new drug offers any additional improvements over standard treatment courses.
Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark visited the Department of Oncology at Oxford University today to make the announcement. He said: 'Britain already punches above its weight in science and innovation globally. It's only right that we harness this ability in the fight against cancer. This £110 million investment will help fund lifesaving research and create jobs.'
Proton beam therapy is a form of radiotherapy. Unlike standard radiotherapy, it doesn't use X-rays to deliver a dose of radiation to a tumour with the aim of killing cancer cells. Instead it uses a narrow beam of protons, a subatomic particle, to deliver the radiation dose. The proton beam is able to greatly spare the surrounding healthy tissues of the body that lie adjacent to the cancer.
The NHS is building two proton beam centres for the treatment of specific cancers, one in London and one in Manchester, which are expected to open in 2018. The Precision Cancer Medicine Institute (PCMI) will not be another NHS treatment centre for proton beam therapy. All those who would qualify for proton treatment under the NHS, because their type of cancer is on the current NHS list, would get their treatment at the NHS facilities. The PCMI is a research facility which will evaluate the benefits of this treatment for other cancers.
A new building to house the PCMI is likely to be constructed at the Churchill hospital/Old Road Campus site in Oxford, but no firm decision has been made on a location.
Chan-Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre for Molecular Medicine
A research partnership between the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine in the USA and the University of Oxford will create the Chan Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre for Molecular Medicine.
The new centre will use the latest techniques to characterise tumour samples from patients in order to understand the particular genetic and molecular changes underlying that patient's cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma.
The aim is to understand how large amounts of genomic and other molecular data can be combined with clinical data – all so that the treatments patients receive can be determined by the characteristics of the cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma they have.
The data will also provide a rich resource for cancer research, drive the development of new drugs and enable more 'stratified medicine' (where clinical trials are carried out in groups of patients that may be more likely to respond to a new treatment because of the particular characteristics of their cancer).
The new Chan Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre is likely to be housed within the Precision Cancer Medicine Institute, where the clinical applications of its research will take place. It will work in close collaboration with the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.
The Chan Soon-Shiong Institute has made an initial commitment of $50m (£31.2m) to advance these approaches to cancer medicine in the UK. Of this, $35m (£21.9m) in funding over eight years will establish the new research centre at Oxford University, supporting research and research positions. In addition, the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute will purchase $15m (£9.4m) worth of research equipment and data systems infrastructure in the UK, to which the University will be provided access.
The Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman MP, was present at an event in London to launch the new centre. He said: 'This investment is a sign that Britain is leading the world in the exciting new field of genomic medicine. Breakthroughs in our understanding of how genetics determines how disease really works in patients is crucial to generating new treatments and medicines.'
Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder and chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine, said: 'Along with the University of Oxford, we are living our commitment to clinicians and patients alike. Using the most advanced, sophisticated tools imaginable, we're on a mission to solve the mystery of cancer, and establish an adaptive learning system where the power of one can inform many. The infrastructure to manage big data must be established to enable a national network of clinical scientists in the UK and a portion of the $50m commitment will be used to fund the capital needs to ensure that patients throughout England could benefit from this genomic platform, with the remaining $35m provided to support the operations of the Chan Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre for Molecular Medicine at Oxford.'
Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: 'The ability to understand the particular genetic and molecular changes underlying a patient's cancer holds great potential for cancer medicine. The Chan Soon-Shiong Oxford Centre for Molecular Medicine will not only use the latest techniques to characterise tumour samples from patients, but investigate how this can be used to guide the treatments individual patients receive. That is a truly exciting prospect, and the partnership between the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine and the University of Oxford will have a pioneering role to play in making personalised medicine a reality for cancer patients.'