In the UK, researchers Professor Andrew Beggs and Professor Gary Middleton from the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy and the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences have partnered with Cancer Research UK in a target identification project for the Immuno-oncology Alliance, which translates discovery science into new therapeutics for cancer patients.
The Immuno-oncology Alliance, formed in 2019, sets up collaborations where scientists become part of an extended project team including scientists and drug discovery experts from Cancer Research UK and LifeArc, and resources from Ono Pharmaceutical Co.
These collaborations aim to enable the identification and validation of new therapeutic targets. Projects are structured to ensure rapid outputs, university-based scientists direct the discovery work in basic biology, and Cancer Research UK scientists based in London and Cambridge support this while working in parallel on the chemistry.
The target identification project was awarded funding by Cancer Research UK to work alongside screening experts at the Joint Cancer Research UK-AstraZeneca Functional Genomics Centre in Cambridge, who use CRISPR and bioinformatics to identify genetic targets for new treatments.
Professor Beggs’ research covers colorectal, oesophageal and sarcoma cancer biology, while Professor Gary Middleton works in tumour immunobiology and the tumour microenviroment. Their research both includes the use of organoids – collections of cells that are organised in three dimensions, rather than the conventional two-dimensional arrangement of individual cells in a petri dish.
Professor Beggs said: “Organoids are essentially miniature organs. The cells are grouped together and spatially organised, and continue to perform of the functions the organ would normally do. Cells in organoids also communicate with each other and continue to operate in low oxygen conditions, which are similar to the conditions inside a tumour.”
Professor Beggs commented: “It’s exciting to work on discovery science that is backed by an alliance committed to rapid translation and resourced to deliver it.”