The survival of people with advanced cancer could double within a decade, say scientists involved in cutting-edge research.
People could end up living far longer with more patients also being 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 as well as the molecules, cells and structures that surround tumours and help them grow.
ICR and Royal Marsden scientists believe they can make significant progress in areas such as destroying cancer cells, boosting the body’s power to fight the disease, and stopping healthy cells cell being tricked into helping cancer survive.
“We recognise the fact that a lump of cancer in a patient is far more than simply a ball of cancer cells,” said Kevin Harrington, professor at the ICR and a consultant at the Royal Marsden.
“It is a complex ecosystem and there are elements within that ecosystem that lend themselves to more advanced forms of targeting that will present for us a huge number of opportunities to cure more patients and to do so with fewer side-effects.”
Researchers will also look further into the microscopic fragments of cancer that are shed into the bloodstream with the aim of catching the disease in its earliest stages.
Dr Olivia Rossanese, director of drug discovery at the ICR, said more personalised treatments are already helping people live for longer, but that some forms of the disease remain very difficult to treat.
“We plan to open up completely new lines of attack against cancer, so we can overcome cancer’s deadly ability to evolve and become resistant to treatment,” she said.
“We want to discover better targets within tumours and the wider ecosystem that we can attack with drugs.
“We’re finding powerful new ways to eradicate cancer proteins completely and discovering smarter combination treatments that attack cancer on multiple fronts.
“Together, this three-pronged approach can create smarter, kinder cancer treatments, and offer patients longer life with fewer side-effects.”
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The ICR has launched a five-year research strategy which its boss, Professor Kristian Helin, said hopes to “unravel and disrupt cancer’s ecosystems”.
“Research has been a driver for remarkable improvements in treatments in recent decades,” he said.
“But we believe we can go even further and eradicate some cancers by targeting the ecosystems required for their growth or tipping the balance in favour of the immune system.”
Among other research goals, scientists also hope to employ artificial intelligence (AI) to come up with new ways to combine drugs or adjust their dosing to cut off or slow cancer growth.