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The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) is an independent cancer research organisation based in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1909 as a small research department of the Royal Marsden Hospital, and currently occupies two sites, one in central London and one in Sutton, south of London. According to its vision statement, its aim is "...that people may live their lives free of the fear of cancer as a life-threatening disease..."[1]. Together with The Royal Marsden, it forms Europe's largest comprehensive cancer centre, and is internationally renowned for the quality of its science.[2](see page 61)It is also a constituent college of the University of London, England[3]. In December 2008, the ICR was ranked as the UK's leading academic research centre by the Times Higher Education's Table of Excellence[4], based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council's Research Assessment Exercise.

The ICR receives government funding and funding from other charities such as the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Leukaemia Research, but also relies on public donations[5]. It runs the Everyman Campaign, which raises awareness of male cancers and funds research into testicular and prostate cancer at the Everyman Centre, which is based at the ICR. Everyman fundraising efforts include the Tacheback campaign, Turn Blue for Everyman Month and the Keep Your Eye on the Ball campaign.



Its stated mission is:

  • To conduct research into the causes, prevention, diagnosis and methods of cancer treatment. It does this by pursuing three main research themes: genetic epidemiology, molecular pathology, and therapeutic development.
  • To provide education and advanced training for medical and scientific staff. As a college within the University of London, it provides postgraduate research degrees and taught degrees.
  • To provide treatment and care for cancer patients. It does this via its partnership with the The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.


Historically, ICR scientists have made a number of major breakthroughs, including the discovery that the basic cause of cancer is damage to DNA. They also first identified the potential link between smoking and lung cancer, which was subsequently confirmed [6][7].

More recent accomplishments are the discovery of the anti-cancer drugs carboplatin, given for several cancer types including lung and ovarian, and tomudex, most commonly used to treat cancer of the large bowel. The organisation also synthesised the anti-cancer drugs busulfan, chlorambucil and melphalan. In the five years from 2004/05, the ICR developed an average two drug development candidates per year, an achievement unmatched anywhere in the world. Since 2006, it has licenced three novel series of anti-cancer drugs to major pharmaceutical companies: HSP90 inhibitor to Novartis, PKB inhibitor to AstraZeneca and Pl3Kinase inhibitors to Genentech. The P13Kinase inhibitor GDC-0941, licensed to Genentech by Piramed, is thought to have potential in a range of human cancers. In laboratory test, the ICR scientists found that the drug reduced the growth of glioblastoma - the most common form of brain tumour - by 98 per cent and decreased the growth of ovarian tumours by 80 per cent. In separate investigations, scientists also found the drug worked against a number of cell lines derived from other human cancers [8] .

In conjunction with the Royal Marsden, the ICR is currently testing a promising new prostate cancer drug called abiraterone, which it developed. [9] Results from a Phase II trial of the drug showed benefit for up to two-thirds of men with advanced and aggressive prostate cancer[10], and a Phase III trial is ongoing. In June 2009, it announced results from a Phase I trial of another promising drug, olaparib, in patients with BRCA1/2 mutations. This included patients with breast, ovarian and prostate cancer and in more than half of the patients tumours shrank or stabilised [11]. The drug is a PARP inhibitor and the scientists believe it may be useful in other patients whose cancer is linked to an error in their DNA repair pathway[12]. Laboratory tests published in September 2009, conducted at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR, showed it may also be useful against cancer cells with a faulty PTEN gene [13].

The ICR has also been responsible for the discovery of more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world [14]. Its scientists discovered the gene BRCA2, which has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer. It also characterised the cancer gene BRAF, which has sped up drug development for the treatment of malignant melanomas and other tumours. In April 2009, the ICR revealed that damage to the BRAF gene could cause up to 70 per cent of melanoma skin cancers. [15][16] Other oncogenes found include those linked to prostate cancer and lung cancer.

In March 2009, the ICR announced that it had identified a key enzyme responsible for the spread of cancer, which causes 90% of all cancer patient deaths. Research into the lysyl oxidase (LOX) enzyme is ongoing.[17]


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