Cancer Grand Challenges announces multi-million funding opportunity to tackle nine new research challenges

8 Mar 2023
Cancer Grand Challenges announces multi-million funding opportunity to tackle nine new research challenges

Researchers from across the globe have been challenged to form world-leading teams and tackle some of the largest roadblocks in cancer research with funding awards of up to £20 million offered by major initiative, Cancer Grand Challenges. 

Founded in 2020 by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health in the US, Cancer Grand Challenges is a £400m+ global funding initiative that seeks to make radical progress against cancer’s toughest challenges.

By setting these challenges, which are urgent issues facing the international cancer research community, Cancer Research UK and NCI are setting the global agenda for the future of the field. 

The new challenges for this year, announced today (8 March) at the Cancer Grand Challenges annual summit in London, were chosen by world-leading cancer researchers from over 300 submissions across 35 countries, and include tackling cancer inequalities and understanding why there is a rise in early-onset cancers in adults globally.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death around the world, claiming almost 10 million lives a year, accounting for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide.

While research into cancer has made enormous strides, with around half of patients now surviving the disease for more than 10 years, there are areas of untapped research potential that stand in the way of vital progress. 

These unexplored areas require scientists to dig down to the fundamentals of cancer and deepen our understanding across the field.

They are too complicated for any one researcher to tackle alone.

Cancer Grand Challenges unites the world's brightest minds across boundaries and disciplines to tackle them.

The nine new challenges are as follows:  

  • Determine the mechanisms through which obesity and physical activity influence cancer risk: This challenge seeks to understand the biological processes by which obesity and physical activity impact cancer risk to better inform the development of interventions to alter risk. 
  • Determine why the incidence of early-onset cancers in adults is rising globally: This challenge aims to understand the mechanisms underpinning the biological and environmental factors behind the rise in early-onset cancers, diagnosed in adults under 50 years of age, so that this knowledge can be used to ultimately develop interventions to protect populations at risk.
  • Understand and prevent chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity and neuropathy: This challenge seeks to better understand how some chemotherapies cause particular side effects, such as long-term damage to the nervous system, ultimately to better inform approaches to prevent and treat these to improve patients’ quality of life.
  • Understand the mechanisms through which genetics, biology, and social determinants affect cancer risk and outcomes in diverse populations, to motivate interventions to reduce cancer inequities: This challenge seeks to understand the relative contributions of genetics, biology and social drivers on cancer causes to provide foundational knowledge that could be used to develop novel approaches to reduce cancer inequities and disparities.
  • Decipher the functional basis underlying the association between ageing somatic tissues and cancer: This challenge seeks to understand how the molecular changes associated with ageing contribute to cancer risk in different organs. This knowledge could be used to develop new targeted interventions to lower cancer risk in ageing populations.
  • Develop therapeutics to target oncogenic drivers of solid tumours in children: This challenge seeks to identify new therapies that target drivers of solid tumours in children, to improve survival and reduce the lifelong side effects caused by existing treatments.
  • Understand the roles of retrotransposable elements in cancer: This challenge seeks to understand how retrotransposable elements (which are parts of our DNA that come from viruses that infected us millions of years ago and can jump to different locations in our DNA), contribute to the development and progression of certain types of cancers.
  • Understand cancer cell plasticity and its contribution to the development of pan-therapeutic resistance in cancer: This challenge seeks to expand our understanding of how cancer cells can change their identity by adopting the characteristics of different cells, which can contribute to cancer progression and therapy resistance, and how this could be regulated to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies.  
  • Decipher the T-cell receptor cancer-recognition code: This challenge aims to improve our understanding of how T cells, a type of immune cell, recognise cancer cells, to improve and broaden the success of cancer immunotherapies.

Director of Cancer Grand Challenges, Dr David Scott said: “Cancer is a major global problem that has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Cancer Grand Challenges are setting the agenda for researchers across the world to come together and make change."

“Our initiative inspires new thinking – bringing together world-class, multidisciplinary teams to find bold, new solutions to cancer’s most complex problems. ” 

Every two years, Cancer Grand Challenges invites the global research community, patient advocates and people affected by cancer to submit ideas for the greatest obstacles standing in the way of making vital progress against cancer.

The Cancer Grand Challenges Scientific Committee, formed of some of the world's most eminent researchers, then meet to consolidate and recommend a set of tangible challenges.

International teams are invited to apply for research funding to find new ways to solve them.

The awarded teams will be announced in March 2024.

NCI Deputy Director for Scientific Strategy and Development, Dr Dinah S Singer, PhD said: “Advances in cancer research are driven by scientific creativity and collaboration, two core tenets of Cancer Grand Challenges.

“Our investment and support of these new challenges is built on the principle that by uniting a global research community, we will make progress against cancer that the world urgently needs.”

In 2022, the Cancer Grand Challenges initiative awarded £80 million to four interdisciplinary teams to study a muscle-wasting condition in cancer patients known as cachexia, the biology of extrachromosomal DNA in cancer, new therapies for solid tumours in children, and the triggers that cause normal cells harbouring cancer-causing mutations to become tumour cells.

In earlier years, seven other multidisciplinary projects were also funded through earlier rounds of the Cancer Grand Challenges. 

Previously funded teams have already made incredible discoveries, including the Mutograph team, who found that quitting smoking could allow new, healthy cells to actively replenish the lining of our airways; and the IMAXT team, who have created technology which can allow viewers to interact with detailed cell maps of tumours in virtual reality – an entirely new way to study cancer. 

Expressions of interest are now open.

Cancer Grand Challenges is inviting international research teams to apply and receive up to £20M in funding to take on one of the nine new challenges.

The deadline to apply is June 22, 2023.

Shortlisted teams will be announced in August 2023. 

More information about the newly announced challenges will be available here.

Source: Cancer Research UK