Funding collaborations and discovery in treating brain cancers

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Published: 11 May 2018
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Dr Iain Foulkes - Executive Director, Research & Innovation / CEO of Cancer Research Technology

Dr Foulkes speaks with ecancer at the Cancer Research UK Brain Tumour Conference 2018 in London about a new round of grants to fund research in the diagnosis and treatment of brain cancers.

He highlights UK centers of excellence, and hopes to focus research on molecular markers, the brain microbiome and disease aetiology in adult and paediatric patients.
 

Today we were announcing a new strategic investment in brain cancer research. We feel it’s the right time to make a big investment in this area. It’s a cancer of unmet need where survival rates remain low, 14% on average for ten year survival, and have been stuck at that level for a generation really. So we really feel it’s important that we commit some new research funding to this area. So today we’re announcing a £25 million investment in brain cancer research. That will include a call for international collaborations in discovery science to really try to understand what’s going on in brain cancer and also in clinical research as well.

We have also announced two Centres of Excellence. We have announced a paediatric brain cancer Centre of Excellence, based between Cambridge and the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and an adult brain cancer research centre which is based between Edinburgh and University College London.

What specifically would you like the grant to be used for?

We brought together an international panel just over a year ago to really help us think about what are the critical questions that need to be answered in brain cancer research. Which, if we were able to do that, would really unlock different sorts of thinking, would allow us to expose new vulnerabilities of brain cancers and really start to try and develop new therapeutic approaches because there have been very few of those over the years. So that panel helped us come up with a series of questions; we are framing the research call around those but we are saying to researchers if you have got other ideas as well, bring those forward, we will look at those. So some of the themes are really trying to understand more about the genetic underpinning basis for brain cancer; we’re trying to look at the microenvironment around brain tumours really to try and understand what role the immune system can play both in terms of the development of the disease but then also the therapeutic approaches that we could take as well. We’d like to understand a little bit more around the differences between adult brain tumours and children’s brain tumours; they are obviously very different and we would like to understand what are the different drivers there and, in doing so, try and expose new vulnerabilities to target the particular tumours with new treatments.

Historically, what have been some of the issues faced in brain cancer treatment?

One of the issues is, from a research perspective, it has been a very hard area to undertake research. A lot of research is based on the samples that we can take from patients; obviously in the brain it’s much more difficult to take biopsies from brain cancer patients for obvious reasons. That makes it very difficult, then, to take that into the lab and really start to dissect and understand what’s going on. But with new approaches that are coming out all of the time with new cell lines, new organoids, we’ll be in a position to really be able to apply new techniques like CRISPR and gene editing to samples in the laboratory and again really try and understand what’s going on there.

There’s also a very small research community in this area. Because it’s been hard to get the samples, because it’s a disease that has a very low survival rate, researchers haven’t been drawn to this area over the years. So, again, with this new investment that we’re making we hope we can attract new research teams to this area and really start to build capacity in this field as well.