The Cancer Research UK (London, UK) Grand Challenge awards are a collection of hugely ambitious grants intended to catalyze a revolution in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Seven challenges have been announced, which together address some of the biggest unanswered questions in cancer research. Challenge Seven has been announced with the intention to: “Deliver biologically active macromolecules to any and all cells in the body to effectively treat cancer.”
Scientists have been experimenting with the use of large biological macromolecules to target and destroy cancerous cells. These macromolecules can affect the survival of cancer cells, for example by inhibiting growth or by triggering the body’s immune system. However, unlike conventional small molecule drugs, it is challenging to deliver these therapies into the body and then to the cancerous cells.
Cancer Research UK believes that if a method is discovered to deliver these macromolecules to cells in the body, it would create a novel means of treating cancer and would also have potential for the treatment of other diseases.
Biological macromolecules such as proteins, DNA, RNA and antibodies have shown huge therapeutic potential in cancer and other diseases. They also have the potential to be engineered to make them more specific and active than currently available therapies. Existing research mostly focuses on targeting the macromolecule, but Cancer Research UK is interested in a different approach: delivering a macromolecule drug to all cells, but ensuring it is only toxic to cancerous cells.
The challenges’ focus is on delivery mechanisms. This strategy is how the cancer drug imatinib is effective. It’s a small molecule drug in tablet form, and although it is taken up by normal tissue it is only effective at killing cells expressing the tumorous fusion protein BRC-ABL.
The charity anticipates that the challenge will require interdisciplinary collaboration, from medicinal chemists to engineers and physical scientists. Given the size of the challenge, teams addressing a sole crucial component are welcome to apply; for example, teams addressing the transport of functionally active macromolecules across the blood-brain barrier.
The successful team could receive up to £20m toward their research, and will have a principal and up to seven interdisciplinary co-investigators from recognized academic institutions or for-profit companies. The charity would also prefer that applications include a patient advocate, and at least 25% of the grant will need to be spent within the UK, with applications closing 12 February 2016.