The Royal Marsden and The Institute of Cancer Research open groundbreaking Centre for Molecular Pathology

21 November 2012

Scientists will be able to monitor whether new-generation cancer drugs are successful to an unprecedented degree of detail following the opening of a new world-class research facility at The Royal Marsden and its academic research partner, The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

Hair follicles and blood samples will be among the tissues tested at the new Centre for Molecular Pathology (CMP) under a new brand of smart trials monitoring whether new-generation cancer drugs are hitting their molecular targets.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, today officially opened the CMP — heralding a new era for personalised medicine, under which treatments are targeted at specific molecular defects of cancers.

The centre brings together clinicians, geneticists, pathologists and scientists under one roof for the first time, dramatically speeding up the research and treatment development process. And as part of the new brand of smart trials, researchers at the CMP aim to monitor precisely how cancer drugs are working inside tumour cells by taking samples of a patient’s eyebrows during their course of treatment.

Working side by side to advance cancer research and treatment, the teams will be able to better understand each patient’s individual tumour type and develop personalised treatment plans faster than ever before, making our vision of personalised medicine a reality.

Following on from recent breakthroughs including the development of trastuzumab (Herceptin) for breast cancer, abiraterone for prostate cancer and vemurafenib for skin cancer, doctors will be able to monitor precisely how cancer drugs are working inside tumour cells with the launch of new smart clinical trials.

Dr Michelle Garrett, a team leader at The Institute of Cancer Research and collaborator with The Royal Marsden, will lead one of the first four research groups to begin work on the smart trials at the CMP. She said: "In the past it was only possible to tell fairly crudely whether a treatment was working or not, without understanding why it might not have worked, and what we could do to make it more effective. With the facilities available in the new Centre for Molecular Pathology, we will be able to obtain detailed information about whether a drug is hitting its molecular target and how long it is remaining effective for, for example by measuring biomarkers that detect target inhibition in tissue such as hair follicles."

The new centre will also make it easier for scientists to access tumour samples, in order to develop biomarkers for smart trials in adult patients and separately for children, to allow new cancer drugs to be tested in them more quickly.

The three-storey building includes four laboratory suites over two floors as well as support facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. There is a dedicated molecular diagnostics laboratory, a tissue sample storage facility and an entire floor dedicated to drug development.

Cally Palmer CBE, Chief Executive, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “At The Royal Marsden and the ICR we are leading the way in providing patients with routine molecular diagnosis which help identify which patients will benefit from which therapies. The Centre for Molecular Pathology is an exciting new facility which will drive a move towards personalised medicine. It will bring scientists, pathologists, geneticists and clinicians together to continue working to revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. This is an incredibly exciting time for cancer research, with the prospect of significant improvements in patient care.”

Professor Alan Ashworth, Chief Executive, The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “A revolution is taking place in the way cancer is treated. Patients are increasingly being treated with individualised therapies based on our vastly increased understanding of the biology and genetics of cancer. We and The Royal Marsden are launching the CMP to meet the demands of this new cancer paradigm, and to make sure discoveries in the laboratory are translated as quickly as possible into clinical trials and patient benefit.”

The building was financed through capital funding awarded by the Department of Health to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Specialist Biomedical Research Centre (£11.3 million), The Wolfson Foundation (£1.5 million) and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity (£4.3 million).

Further information

About the CMP: The Centre for Molecular Pathology (CMP) is born out of the unique relationships between The Royal Marsden and the ICR, who, together, form the only Biomedical Research Centre specializing in the UK. BRC status was awarded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in 2006 and renewed in 2011.

It will enhance our capability for undertaking studies in molecular pathology and enable us to establish robust molecular diagnostics to aid selection for the most appropriate cancer treatments and enable the personalization of cancer treatments, develop predictive molecular biomarkers to aid the clinical development of anti-cancer drugs and identify new molecular targets in a range of different tumour types.

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education.

Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 44,000 patients every year. It is a centre of excellence with an international reputation for groundbreaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies. The Royal Marsden also provides community services in the London boroughs of Sutton and Merton and in June 2010, along with the ICR, the Trust launched a new academic partnership with Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex.

Since 2004, the hospital’s charity, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, has helped raise over £50 million to build theatres, diagnostic centres, and drug development units. Prince William became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital.

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About the ICR: The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world’s most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients’ lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden Hospital and ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment. The Cancer Therapeutics Unit and Drug Development Unit at the ICR and The Royal Marsden were recently honoured with the 2012 American Association for Cancer Research Team Science Award for the “tremendous impact” of their preclinical and clinical studies.

As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR’s mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer.

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