£110m research centre in cancer medicine to be established at Oxford University

23 October 2014

New institute will include research on the use of proton beam therapy 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 the use of genomics and molecular diagnostics, advanced cancer imaging, trials of new drugs, minimally invasive 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.

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.

Cancer patients from Oxfordshire and nationwide will be able to participate in research studies in a state-of-the-art institute under the guidance of leading clinicians.

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.

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.’

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, said: ‘The Hefce award is tremendous news. It represents a very large investment in the future of cancer medicine. From proton beam therapy and minimally invasive surgery, to improved imaging of cancer and trials of the latest drugs, this research will show how advances in treatments can improve outcomes for cancer patients in Oxfordshire and around the world. We will now work hard to establish the Precision Cancer Medicine Institute at Oxford University along with all our partners.’

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: ‘We're entering a new era of cancer research where we can begin to treat patients according to the particular make up of their cancer. The new Precision Cancer Medicine Institute is a great example of how we will make progress: from better tests to improved drugs, surgery and radiotherapy, to help more patients survive their cancers.’

Joe Matteo, Division President ProNova Solutions – R&D and Manufacturing, said: ‘ProNova is honoured and excited to be a partner with Oxford University in the formation of this leading edge research facility. We believe that the new developments in proton therapy accomplished at Oxford’s PCMI will be a major step in redefining the future of cancer treatment.’

Sir Jonathan Michael, Chief Executive of Oxford University Hospitals, said: ,We are delighted to welcome the development of this new research centre. Staff in the University and NHS departments of Oncology already work very closely on the delivery of high quality and technologically advanced treatments and trials for our patients in the NHS cancer centre on the Churchill site. This new centre is a fantastic opportunity for our patients and staff to take part in clinical trials of cutting edge treatments. The close proximity of the centre to the NHS cancer centre and established clinical links will ensure that patient care is seamless across the two institutions.’

Madeleine Atkins, the chief executive of Hefce, said: ‘I am delighted to be able to announce funding for another major infrastructure project through the UK RPIF. This project will transform cancer research in the UK and will be of great benefit to patients in the future.’

Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark 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.’

For more information please contact the University of Oxford news & information office on +44 (0)1865 280530 or [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

  • Professor Gillies McKenna of Oxford University will lead the new institute. He says: ‘If you look at what cures cancer, in 90% of cases it is surgery or radiotherapy. If we want to improve cure rates, we should start with what works. We should look to add in new therapies to the latest in surgery and radiotherapy. ‘Rather than focussing on trials in late-stage, advanced cancers – where other treatments have failed – we need to focus on cancer at an early stage where surgery and radiotherapy remain options for patients, but where even with these treatments the outcomes remain poor. Oxford University has been a leader in pioneering ways of trialling new cancer drugs in the gaps in conventional treatments – in the weeks off patients might have from radiotherapy or chemotherapy.’
  • Patients volunteering to take part in research studies at the Precision Cancer Medicine Institute will continue to receive their care from NHS doctors and nurses under NHS clinical governance and oversight.
  • 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 NHS also sends patients abroad if their care team thinks they are ideally suited to receive proton beam therapy. Around 400 patients have been sent abroad since 2008 – most of these patients were children. http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/09September/Pages/what-is-proton-beam-therapy.aspx
  • 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 funded facilities in Manchester or London. The PCMI is a research facility which will evaluate the benefits of this treatment for other cancers. Anyone who meets the criteria for a clinical trial, in terms of the type of cancer and suitability for treatment, could be referred to a trial at the PCMI. The researchers will also work to find ways to reduce the cost of proton therapy and widen access to it. One way to do this is to consider the benefit of combining proton treatment with other approaches tailored for the individual, which is an objective of the PCMI.
  • 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. This can increase the effectiveness of radiotherapy and reduce the side-effects of treatment. Proton beam therapy is currently accepted for treating some cancers in parts of the body where it is important to reduce damage to surrounding tissue as much as possible, such as cancers in children. See: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/09September/Pages/what-is-proton-beam-therapy.aspx
  • A new building to house the institute is likely to be constructed at the Churchill hospital/Old Road Campus site, but no firm decision has been made on a location. Since the institute will carry out research involving cancer patients, it makes sense to have it close to the Cancer Centre at the Churchill Hospital. All plans would require planning approval and involve public consultation.
  • Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe, with over 2,500 people involved in research and more than 2,800 students. The University is rated the best in the world for medicine, and it is home to the UK’s top-ranked medical school.
    From the genetic and molecular basis of disease to the latest advances in neuroscience, Oxford is at the forefront of medical research. It has one of the largest clinical trial portfolios in the UK and great expertise in taking discoveries from the lab into the clinic. Partnerships with the local NHS Trusts enable patients to benefit from close links between medical research and healthcare delivery.
    A great strength of Oxford medicine is its long-standing network of clinical research units in Asia and Africa, enabling world-leading research on the most pressing global health challenges such as malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and flu. Oxford is also renowned for its large-scale studies which examine the role of factors such as smoking, alcohol and diet on cancer, heart disease and other conditions.