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Transforming cancer care at King's

King’s is the site of future breakthroughs, transforming cancer care and therapies through innovative research. An injection of philanthropic donations provides an exciting outlook for cancer research at King’s.

The story so far:

Over the past 10 years, sustained focus and investment totaling c.£170m have underpinned King’s growth into a world-class centre in this area. The funded research is wide and multi-disciplinary, from discovery, through translational research, into the clinic – with leading strengths in cancer immunology, advanced therapies, early-phase trials, and cancer imaging

Research teams benefit from a close working relationship with King’s Health Partners, including clinicians at Guy’s and St Thomas’. This enables teams to develop alternative and individualised patient care options and to run clinical trials. This marriage of research and clinical expertise ensures that patients with cancer today can benefit from the ongoing work at King’s labs.

This partnership was particularly felt in 2021, when Dr Sheeba Irshad and Professor Adrian Hayday discovered that a single dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was ineffective in many patients with solid and haematological cancers. They found antibody responses to the virus three weeks after the first dose of the vaccine were only 38% and 18% in the solid and haematological cancers, compared to 94% in those without cancer. This finding led to a change in government policy, allowing cancer patients to book vaccine doses earlier.

covid vaccine centre

Advanced therapy research has also benefited from successes of King’s faculty members. Dr John Maher’s team at King’s spinout Leucid Bio genetically reprogramme T cells – a type of cell in the immune system – to recognise and destroy cancer cells. Also, Professor Sophia Karagiannis and Professor James Spicer’s spin-out Epsilogen, which develops novel antibody drugs (immunoglobulin E) to treat cancer, has recently gained £30m in funding. Their engineered IgE, Mov18 IgE, is the world’s first IgE drug to enter clinical trials. GammaDelta Therapeutics, founded by Professor Adrian Hayday, was acquired by Takeda to accelerate development of allogeneic γδT Cell therapies against solid tumours.

We’ve also improved the quality of life for patients with acute-myeloid leukaemia and developed a new class of immunotherapy drug which could fight hard-to-treat cancers. Now, we look to a bright future where a staggering £30m has been invested into potentially ground-breaking research at King’s.

“Our Comprehensive Cancer Centre’s multidisciplinary faculty comprised of clinicians and non-clinical scientists have over the years adopted an integrative approach to address the cancer problem,” said Professor Tony Ng, Joint Head of the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“By working across the clinical-scientific interface we aim to enhance the translation of the excellent fundamental and translational science that we have within King’s and its hospital partners, in areas of focus such as advanced therapy and multimodal analyses complemented by machine learning, into tangible benefits for cancer patients. In addition, for enhancing the impact of our research, we have fostered several strategic relationships between KHP and our industry partners, working towards our shared goal of improving cancer patient outcomes.”

Researchers and clinicians working together

Last year, the Head and Neck Centre, at Guy’s Hospital, opened its doors for cancer patients in need. Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer globally, with around 1,000 people in the UK diagnosed every month. Despite advances in treatment, many of those diagnosed with head and neck cancer still lose their lives.

Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre brings together a diverse range of programmes to offer patients the best possible care. As with all cancers, an early diagnosis is essential for best outcomes, and the centre aims to improve the ways they are treated by minimising side-effects, maximising treatment effectiveness and reducing rates of recurrence. The Centre also provides support services to improve the quality of life for those living with and beyond head and neck cancer.

The Centre has been made possible thanks to the generous support of Charles Wilson and Dr Rowena Olegario of Wilson + Olegario Philanthropy.

Campus - Guy's hospital

International partnership

Elsewhere at King’s, academics have partnered with San Raffaele University Hospital in Milan, Italy, ensuring a close relationship between research and clinic. King’s secured a £3million philanthropic gift to support two new initiatives from Dr. Alberto Recordati, a King’s alumni. The first is the Dr Recordati Surgical Data Science Programme led by Professor Sebastien Ourselin, which will enable collaboration between surgical experts at San Raffaele and surgical data science experts from the Department of Surgical & Interventional Engineering at the School of Biomedical & Imaging Sciences. Researchers will have the opportunity to undertake novel research at either institution, drive discoveries, and take learnings back to their home institutions with the ultimate aim of improving cancer care.

The second initiative is a clinical trial that will harness the power of the immune system to help tackle prostate cancer. Led by Professor Prokar Dasgupta at King’s, who has pioneered robotic urological surgery and leads on surgical simulation within the UK and internationally, the trial immunologists from the Peter Gorer Department of Immunobiology will recruit patients at Guy’s & St Thomas’ hospital as well as at San Raffaele University Hospital. If successful, this world-first trial could have significant benefits for people with prostate cancer across the world. The £3 million gift was made possible thanks to Fondazione Donor Italia.

Industry collaborations

King’s also have industry partnerships focused on cancer with GSK, UCB, AstraZeneca, Celgene/BMS, Apollo Therapeutics and more. These are most frequently focused on early-stage clinical research. Researchers also have strong strategic partnerships with technology companies including Medtronic, Nikon Instruments, Thermofisher, Teledyne, Siemens Healthineers, Nvidia and NanoString to enable the application of state-of-the-art, innovative approaches to urgent clinical problems.

Leadership for a bright future

Finally, a transformative gift of £12.5million will be used to fund a Chair in Immuno-Oncology in the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences. This Chair will expand King’s work in cancer immunology and develop the School’s research programme. The Chair will also provide leadership to develop new therapies, taking them through clinical trials to clinic so patients at Guy’s Cancer and beyond can benefit.

In this story

John  Maher

John Maher

Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Immunology

Adrian  Hayday

Adrian Hayday

Professor of Immunobiology

Sophia Karagiannis

Sophia Karagiannis

Professor of Translational Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy 

Prokar  Dasgupta

Prokar Dasgupta

Professor of Surgery

Sebastien Ourselin

Sebastien Ourselin

Professor of Healthcare Engineering

James Spicer

James Spicer

Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine

Tony  Ng

Tony Ng

Richard Dimbleby Professor of Cancer Research

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