Artificial intelligence and the challenge of cancer evolution were among the themes of a visit to the site of The London Cancer Hub by Baroness Nicola Blackwood, a Government Minister responsible for research, life sciences, medicines pricing and regulation.
The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and the London Borough of Sutton are working in partnership to develop The London Cancer Hub. This ambitious new campus aims to become the world’s leading centre for cancer research, treatment and enterprise. Once complete, it is projected that it will contribute around £1.2 billion per year to the UK economy.
Baroness Blackwood, who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, met the ICR's Chief Executive Professor Paul Workman and the London Borough of Sutton's Chief Executive Helen Bailey, and then toured some of the current ICR facilities on the site where scientists are creating pioneering new technologies for cancer research and treatment.
Professor Bissan Al-Lazikani and her team gave an introduction to their work in speeding up the identification of new cancer drug candidates using Big Data and AI technologies. She was also given the opportunity to test out state-of-the-art virtual reality technology, allowing her a glimpse of cancer proteins up close.
Importance of convergence science
The Minister was then given a tour of the Centre for Cancer Imaging from Professor Gail ter Haar, who showcased her work using high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) – which precisely targets cancers with heat generated by focusing beams of sound.
Professor ter Haar and Baroness Blackwood also discussed the importance of convergence science for pioneering new discoveries by bridging the traditional barriers between disciplines.
Afterwards, the Minister was full of praise for the ICR's pioneering and innovative science – and for the opportunities from The London Cancer Hub for accelerating the discovery and development of new cancer drugs and technologies.
Speaking at an event a week later, Baroness Blackwood said: "Just last week I was speaking to the extraordinary researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research about the potential for AI to improve the speed and accuracy of drug discovery.
"As part of their work they have created a database that uses AI to discover the cancer treatments of the future. Their system called canSAR is the biggest disease database of its kind anywhere in the world, with almost 5 million experimental results.
"It is freely available to help researchers worldwide and is already driving dramatic advances in drug discovery, identifying 46 potentially “druggable' cancer proteins that had previously been overlooked."