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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

U.S. Scientists Receive Inaugural $87 Million Grand Challenge Awards To Accelerate Global Progress To Beat Cancer Sooner

  • A landmark global fund established to dramatically accelerate progress against cancer has made its first awards divided between several pioneering research teams, which contain leading U.S.-based academics
  • Awarded projects will develop technology to create 3D virtual reality representations of tumors; build new ‘global tumor maps’; identify the unknown causes of cancer; and find new ways to reduce overtreatment – all of which could improve how we prevent, diagnose and treat the disease
  • Award announcement marks the beginning of a five-year program to reduce the burden of cancer with a scale and approach never seen before in cancer research

Press Release – (LONDON, February 10, 2017) – Cancer Research UK, the world’s largest not-for-profit cancer research organization, has today announced that six leading U.S. scientists are among the winners of a global competition to help overcome the biggest challenges facing cancer research.

The initial $87 million ‘Grand Challenge’ fund will be distributed across four international teams that include academics from six prominent U.S. institutions including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Grand Challenge is unique in its approach to identifying and addressing critical issues through international, multidisciplinary team research on a scale never before undertaken in cancer. The initiative – established by the UK’s leading cancer charity, Cancer Research UK – has been steered by a panel of world-leading researchers chaired by Dr. Rick Klausner, former director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

The projects funded by the award are set to revolutionize the understanding of cancer, and how to better prevent, diagnose and treat the disease globally. Teams will develop pioneering solutions to major challenges. Teams will:

  • Create a virtual reality 3D tumor map which will allow scientists and doctors to examine – for the first time and in unprecedented detail – the cellular and molecular make-up of a patient’s entire tumor to improve diagnosis and treatment for the disease.
  • Study samples from five continents to understand the DNA damage associated with different cancers, to understand what causes them and if they can be prevented.
  • Distinguish between those women with DCIS (a condition that can develop into cancer) who need treatment and those that don’t, to reduce overtreatment of the condition.
  • Develop a way to combine new and existing technologies to create virtual representations of tumors, and a global database that catalogues their genetic make-up and metabolism, which could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

While survival has improved, cancer remains the biggest killer in the U.S. after heart disease. Approximately two in every five U.S. adults will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. It is estimated that there will be more than 1.65 million new cancer cases in 2017 in the U.S. and more than 600,000 cancer deaths (around 4,600 new cases and 1,600 deaths daily)[i].

Cancer Research UK has been a driving force in global cancer research for more than 100 years. The organization is the world’s largest cancer research not-for-profit and the biggest independent funder of cancer research in the world. Cancer Research UK has funded seven Nobel Prize Winners and has contributed to the development of many cancer drugs globally, including Zytiga, a drug that has been prescribed to more than 80,000 men in the U.S. with advanced prostate cancer, and Temodal for the treatment of brain cancer[ii].

The organization also supported the discovery of key cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, an advancement that helped Angelina Jolie and thousands others to decide what action to take to reduce their risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer[iii]. Cancer Research UK was one of the first international collaborators of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s ‘Cancer Moonshot’ initiative.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said, “Cancer Research UK set up the Grand Challenge to bring a renewed focus and energy to the fight against cancer. We want to shine a light on the toughest questions that stand in the way of progress. We’re incredibly excited to be able to support these teams as they help us achieve our ambition. Cancer is a global problem, and these projects are part of the global solution. Together, we will redefine cancer, turning it from a disease that so many people die from, to one that many people can live with. We will reduce the number of people worldwide affected by cancer and achieve our goal of beating cancer sooner.”

Dr. Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge advisory panel and former director of the National Cancer Institute, said, “When we began the Grand Challenge we sought scientific adventurers – people willing to come together in new ways, to think differently, and bring novel approaches to answer the big questions in cancer. These unique teams have done just that. Cancer is a complex, and often brutal disease. Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge is helping us change the way we to tackle it – bringing together different disciplines, ideas, and people on a global scale. We’ve got our sights set on the horizon of discovery, and I’m confident these Grand Challenge teams will lead to life-changing results.”

About the Grand Challenge Award

The Grand Challenge is a pioneering new research grant facilitated by Cancer Research UK. It will dedicate $87 million to funding research teams to tackle a selection of the seven biggest cancer research challenges. These challenges are:

  1. Develop vaccines to prevent non-viral cancers
  2. Eradicate EBV-induced cancers from the world
  3. Discover how unusual patterns of mutation are induced by different cancer-causing events
  4. Distinguish between lethal cancers that need treating, and non-lethal cancers that don’t
  5. Find a way of mapping tumors at the molecular and cellular level
  6. Develop innovative approaches to target the cancer super-controller MYC
  7. Deliver biologically active macromolecules to any and all cells in the body

These seven challenges were identified by an international panel of independent researchers. It was convened by the charity over the course of a year and received input from the wider research community and patient groups.

Phase one of the Grand Challenge, (announced on February 10, 2017), will investigate three out of these seven challenges. CRUK intends to issue a set of new challenges in phase two, which will launch in summer 2017.

$87 million is adjusted from £71m at an exchange rate of 1GBP to 1.22USD.

Cancer Research UK the world’s largest not-for-profit cancer research organization and the biggest independent funder of cancer research in the world; spending $4.3 billion on research over the last 10 years.

With over 80 partners worldwide, Cancer Research UK researchers work in collaboration with researchers in over 100 countries. The organization supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.

Visit for more information.

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on voluntary financial donations.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call +44(0)300 123 1022 or visit Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

[i] The American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures 2017:



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