Guest post Cancer Research UK and MedImmune: A shared vision


Keith Blundy, Ph.D

In 2012, about 14.1 million people worldwide received a new cancer diagnosis and here in the UK, around 331,500 people are diagnosed with the disease each year. In the United States, cancer is the second most common cause of death, exceeded only by heart disease.

Despite these discouraging statistics, there is good news. Survival rates for many types of cancer are improving, more people are tuned into early detection strategies and we’re getting better at diagnosis. Cancer remains a disease of vast complexity and there is much we have yet to learn, but in recent years understanding of the disease has improved markedly and technological advances have been made. So although significant challenges remain, we are living in a renaissance of knowledge and inquiry—there’s never been a better time for arming ourselves against this terrible disease.

Today, my organisation—Cancer Research Technology (CRT), part of Cancer Research UK—announced a first-of-its-kind collaboration with MedImmune focusing on an area of significant promise: biological therapies for the treatment of cancer. Cancer Research UK’s new research strategy includes plans to increase investment in biotherapeutics, so this is a key area for us right now in which we have big ambitions. Forging innovative partnerships, like this one with MedImmune, that provide Cancer Research UK’s leading researchers with access to the latest technology platforms, is a key part of delivering this promise.

Under this collaboration, our two organizations will establish a joint laboratory – the CRUK-MEDI Alliance Laboratory - in Cambridge, UK, which will focus on the discovery and development of novel biological cancer treatments. We have a long track record of working with industry to accelerate promising research into treatments with the potential to benefit patients. But this is the first time that Cancer Research UK scientists and researchers from one of our commercial partners, MedImmune, will get the chance to work side-by-side using state of the art antibody technologies. We hope that combining MedImmune’s human antibody phage display libraries and established antibody engineering technologies with our early-stage oncology research expertise will capitalise on the growing academic and commercial interest in this field and lead to potentially exciting new breakthroughs for patients. It will also drive greater research understanding by generating new research tools for scientists.

What’s unique about this collaboration is that we’re sharing more than just a vision. This is important, of course, and that vision includes goals such as dramatic improvements in cancer survival rates and the development of drug candidates that are driven by a biologic rationale. But, what is truly exceptional is the model by which we’re working: an academic-industry alliance in which we’re not just exchanging capabilities, but are working side-by-side, creating and sharing a lab, sharing decisions and jointly managing the work that we’re doing together.

The CRUK-MEDI Alliance Laboratory will be located in Cambridge, UK in a growing hub of science and technology. There is excitement at Cancer Research UK and MedImmune about this partnership and the cutting-edge research we’ll be conducting, which we hope will yield significant output. Cancer Research UK-funded scientists from across the UK will have the opportunity to access this unique lab and expertise.

The most significant recent breakthroughs in patient outcome have emerged from the use of biological therapies to modulate the immune system, a targeted approach with long-lasting and not yet completely understood effects. This has opened up exciting new opportunities to develop biological therapies which we hope will have a profound impact on the treatment of cancer. Pioneering collaborations, such as the one between Cancer Research UK and MedImmune, offer significant hope for not only discovering key points that drive cancer, but for developing the types of targeted agents that will keep cancer at bay—and, yes, perhaps even one day lead to a cure.