Professor Udai Banerji oversees one of the largest and most successful centres for phase I cancer trials in the world. He explains why he’s so excited about opportunities to work with industry partners at the Innovation Gateway.
Tell us about yourself – what’s your background?
I’m Deputy Director of Drug Development at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and lead scientific teams too that are involved in discovering new drugs and approaches to treatment. I work at the interface between early-phase clinical trials, drug discovery and translational research related to drug resistance.
What is the Innovation Gateway – and why is it an exciting prospect as a new location for companies?
The Innovation Gateway is a new laboratory and collaboration space at The London Cancer Hub here in Sutton, South London – one of the sites on which the ICR and our colleagues at The Royal Marsden are based. It represents the first opportunity for companies in the life-sciences to locate here alongside us and to collaborate directly with us in the discovery and development of new cancer treatments and technologies, which is very exciting.
There will also be potential opportunities for companies taking space here to access some of our state-of-the-art equipment and facilities – including in the ICR’s new £75m Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, which is only metres away.
What are the strengths of the ICR when it comes to industry collaboration?
The ICR is one of the world’s leading academic institutions in industry collaboration and one of the UK’s very top higher education institutions in research quality and impact. Our impact is partly down to our strategy of partnering with industry to accelerate the translation of our discoveries into benefits for cancer patients.
We’re incredibly proud of our track record in drug discovery and development. Since 2005, we’ve discovered 21 drug candidates – more than at any other academic centre in the world – and 12 of these have progressed into clinical trials, in collaboration with our industry partners.
That’s down to our collaborations with industry but also our close partnership with The Royal Marsden – together, the ICR and The Royal Marsden are ranked in the top four centres for cancer research and treatment worldwide.
Our partnership is exemplified by our joint Drug Development Unit, which runs around 50 early-stage trials of novel treatments at any one time, many of them in collaboration with industry. We also put a huge focus on identifying and developing biomarkers, for example, using genetics, imaging and pathology – and how these link to outcomes for cancer patients.
Can you give us some examples of successful collaborations?
ICR researchers discovered and developed the blockbuster prostate cancer drug abiraterone, working with partners including the company BTG and The Royal Marsden. This drug has treated many thousands of men worldwide and currently generates around $2.5bn in sales per year.
From the translational biology side, we have collaborated extensively with many biotech and pharma partners to evaluate liquid biopsies using both circulating tumour cells and cell-free DNA – leading to multiple analyses of these technologies in clinical trials.
Several cancer drugs discovered here or arising from ICR programmes have reached major milestones in the past couple of years. EP0042 and most recently NXP800 have reached human trials, while capivasertib has entered phase III trials. Monte Rosa Therapeutics, which was initially a spin-out from research at the ICR into a new drug type known as molecular glues, has listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
We’re also working with many industry partners to trial their innovative new drugs – for example next-generation immunotherapy with Crescendo, the innovative radiopharmaceutical 177Lu-PSMA-617 with Novartis, or AVA6000 with Avacta.
But that’s just my own area. I think the key to our success hinges around our multidisciplinary environment and the breadth of our expertise. We have world-class scientists and clinicians working across physics, radiotherapy, biology, chemistry and computational and data science to create innovative approaches to treat cancer. We’re very strong in fundamental biological science as well as clinical medicine, and we aim to collaborate with industry across the full range of our science.
What collaboration opportunities are you most excited about at the Innovation Gateway?
I’m particularly excited about working with small biotech companies. These smaller companies are often very nimble and they take high-risk strategies. While some won’t succeed, they’re a breeding ground for quantum shift ideas and we are really looking forward to bringing some of this type of company into the Innovation Gateway.
I’m also looking forward to working with new spin-outs set up from innovative ideas coming out of the ICR’s laboratories. The Innovation Gateway will be a fantastic place for ICR scientists to start to scale up their commercial ideas in collaboration with experts from industry.
Any final thoughts on the Innovation Gateway?
The Innovation Gateway will make it easier for companies to interact with world-class cancer scientists and clinicians at The London Cancer Hub – encouraging the exchange of knowledge and innovative ideas. I think people will be rushing to move into the Innovation Gateway in the near future. It will be a very high premium space.