Survival rates for patients with advanced cancer could double within a decade, scientists involved in cutting-edge research say.
People may end up living longer as more patients are cured, according to experts from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
They are learning more about what they call the “cancer ecosystem,” which includes the immune system and the molecules, cells and structures that surround and help tumors grow.
Scientists at the ICR and Royal Marsden believe they can make major advances in areas such as disruption cancer cells, boosts the body’s ability to fight disease, and stops healthy cells from being tricked into helping cancer survive.
“We recognize the fact that a cancerous mass in a patient is not just a clump of cancer cells,” said Kevin Harrington, ICR Professor and Consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
“It’s a complex ecosystem, and some elements of that ecosystem lend themselves to more advanced forms of targeting, which will give us enormous opportunities to cure more patients with fewer side effects.”
The researchers will also further study the microscopic pieces of cancer shed into the bloodstream, with the aim of detecting the disease at an early stage.
Dr Olivia Rossanese, Director of Drug Discovery at the ICR, said more personalized treatments were already helping people live longer, but some forms of the disease remained difficult to treat.
“We plan to open up entirely new avenues to fight cancer so we can overcome cancer’s lethal ability to evolve and become resistant to treatments,” she said.
“We hope to discover better targets in tumors and in the broader ecosystem that we can attack with drugs.
“We are finding powerful new ways to completely eradicate cancer proteins and discover smarter combination therapies that attack cancer on multiple fronts.
“Combined, this three-pronged approach could create smarter, friendlier cancer treatments that provide patients with longer lives and fewer side effects.”
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The ICR has launched a five-year research strategy whose head, Professor Kristian Helin, hopes to “unravel and disrupt the cancer ecosystem”.
“Research has been the driving force behind dramatic advances in treatment in recent decades,” he said.
“But we believe we can go further and eradicate some cancers by targeting the ecosystem that cancer needs to grow or tipping the balance in favor of the immune system.”
Among other research goals, the scientists hope to use artificial intelligence (AI) to come up with new ways to combine drugs or adjust dosages to cut off or slow cancer growth.