Professor leads ‘crack team’ to tackle cancer’s greatest mysteries

Published: 28 May 2008

A University of Glasgow professor has been picked to lead a new ‘crack team’ of cancer researchers.

A University of Glasgow professor has been picked to lead a new ‘crack team’ of cancer researchers.

Nicol Keith, professor of molecular oncology, has been selected by Cancer Research UK in an effort to tackle some of cancer’s most pressing scientific challenges. 

The initiative will see the charity hand pick groups of up to five world class scientists - each a leader in their own discipline - who will be joined by some of the world's foremost pharmaceutical companies. The teams will focus on an emerging cancer field identified by Cancer Research UK, and work towards translating basic science into new treatments and diagnostic tools to help beat cancer.

Each new project will form a limited company, managed by the charity’s commercialisation arm, Cancer Research Technology. 

The first company to be established in this scheme is being led by Professor Keith, who is based at Cancer Research UK’s Beatson Laboratory in Glasgow.  He will be joined by scientists from London, Cambridge and Liverpool – and Horizon Discovery, a young oncology focused service company set up in Cambridge to engineer new cancer cell lines. 

Professor Keith’s project will look at utilising cellular senescence – putting cancer cells to sleep to prevent the spread of cancers such as melanoma. The team has the expertise to harness this natural phenomenon and design tests to ‘screen’ for new potential drugs that can kick-start senescence in cancer patients. Two further projects are planned for 2009 and 2010, which will focus on cancer stem cells and the histone code, respectively.

Initially the projects will receive up to half a million pounds from Cancer Research UK over a two-year period.  It is hoped each team will attract an industry partner which will bring know-how and further finance to the project.  In return they will benefit by becoming a shareholder in the company and draw on Cancer Research UK’s expertise in translating basic scientific discoveries into new treatments for cancer.

Once the early development phase is complete, the industrial partner has the option to acquire the company and progress any joint discoveries into clinical compounds. 

CRT’s senior business manager and scheme leader, Simon Youlton, said: “This initiative creates a unique opportunity for us to hand-pick a ‘crack team’ of scientists wherever they may be based - rather than being tied to a particular academic institution or team which approaches us for funding. 

“It enables us to pose an industrially relevant problem that Cancer Research UK wants solving and we hope it will help bridge the gap between academia and industry by combining commercial and scientific know-how with the best and most dedicated brains in science.“

Any profits arising from the success of the work will be shared between the charity and the research partners involved, with Cancer Research UK re-investing any proceeds in its future research work. The business relationships will be managed by CRT, who have more than 20 years experience in licensing patents and developing opportunities for new cancer drugs and diagnostics, working closely with licensees and the pharmaceutical industry.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Harpal Kumar said: “In order to help more people survive a diagnosis of cancer, we urgently need to find new and effective ways of diagnosing and treating the disease.  To do this we must continue to invest in early-stage laboratory research to help us get to the bottom of some of the deepest mysteries that cancer poses.”

“This exciting scheme represents a new way to take forward the potential of our early scientific research in a cost effective manner, and to work with businesses which have a proven record in achieving success. “

For more information, contact Ray McHugh in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 3535 or email

First published: 28 May 2008

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