London – 8 November 2017  A novel approach developed by researchers from the University of Leicester and the MRC Toxicology Unit could help to predict how well patients respond to drugs designed to fight various forms of cancer.

The team has developed a patient-relevant pre-clinical platform called ‘explants’, whereby tumour samples are taken from cancer patients immediately following surgery and drug responses are then assessed in situ.

The ‘explant’ approach is cheap, quick, and reproducible and has already given results that are more predictive of patient outcome than other methods.

The study, which was led by Professor Catrin Pritchard and Dr Howard Pringle from the University of Leicester Cancer Research Centre and Professor Marion MacFarlane, who is based within the MRC Toxicology Unit at Leicester, applied the ‘explant’ approach to lung cancer.

They found that the different cell types within a tumour are retained intact and that the way in which the tumour ‘explants’ respond to drugs predicts how well individual patients respond in the clinic.

Professor Pritchard explained: “Despite the huge level of investment into the development of new anti-cancer drugs by academia and the pharmaceutical industry, most do not deliver patient benefit in the clinic.

“We carried out this study to test whether our ‘explant’ approach gives patient-relevant data with regard to standard-of-care chemotherapy and provide strong evidence that this is indeed the case for lung cancer.

“If incorporated into drug development procedures, then the ‘explant’ platform has an opportunity to make a huge contribution to the anti-cancer drug development pipeline.”

Professor MacFarlane added: “This work is important as it will reduce the attrition rates of cancer drug development and improve the efficiency and speed with which anti-cancer drugs are incorporated into the clinic to give patient benefit. This will also substantially reduce the costs of developing novel anti-cancer drugs.

“We are very excited by the potential of our platform and have already expanded our approach to other cancer types such as breast cancer, mesothelioma and colorectal cancer with excellent results in each of these disease types.”

The study was published in Cancer Research earlier this year:

In recognition of the potential of the platform, Cancer Research UK Therapeutic Discovery Laboratories previously co-funded method development and following this successful pilot study the team has now completed a research agreement with both Cancer Research UK Therapeutic Discovery Laboratories and LifeArc to test a range of novel anti-cancer drugs, attracting investment totalling >£500K.

Tim Hammonds, Deputy Director of Drug Discovery at Cancer Research UK Therapeutic Discovery Laboratories, said: “Access to clinical tissues for our drug discovery projects should provide vital information on the mechanisms and possible application of new therapeutics. We are delighted to be working in this collaboration.”

Dr Justin Bryans, Executive Director, Drug Discovery at LifeArc, said: “We are very excited about this collaboration. The ability to test experimental drugs against explants will provide valuable information and enable us to expedite the discovery of new cancer therapies. In addition, if we can use this platform to inform oncologists of the appropriate treatment for their patients then this could transform the way we treat cancer.”

This has allowed the establishment of a ‘Cancer Explant Facility’ located in the University’s Robert Kilpatrick Clinical Sciences Building at the Leicester Royal Infirmary Site. This facility is also being supported by the University’s Leicester Drug Discovery and Diagnostics Centre (LD3), and the Leicester Precision Medicine Institute (LPMI).

Alasdair Gaw, the Commercial Director of both LD3 and LPMI, commented: “The development of this pre-clinical platform is a great example of how a collaborative approach based on excellent scientific research can positively impact clinical practice to provide patient benefit and typifies why Leicester is a leading centre for precision medicine.”

The work was funded through the award of an MRC Doctoral Training Grant that allowed the appointment of Ellie Karekla, a PhD student who worked as part of the research team. Additional funding, for consumables and overheads, was provided by the MRC Toxicology Unit, following on from a previous MRC Development Gap Fund Award to Professor MacFarlane and also by funding from the MRC Confidence in Concept Award (institutional translational funding).

The Leicester Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, funded by NIHR and Cancer Research UK, provided support in the form of tissue collection nurses.

Barry Sharp, John Pugh and Helen Reid from the Centre for Analytical Science from Loughborough University contributed to the assessment of drug delivery within explant samples.


Notes to editors

Media enquiries

Professor Catrin Pritchard on 0116 229 7061 or email or Professor Marion MacFarlane on 0116 252 5535 or email

Tim Hammonds, Deputy Director of Drug Discovery,Cancer Research UK Commercial Partnerships:

Liezel Tipper, PR and Communications Manager at LifeArc:

Carmel Turner, MRC Chief Press Officer:



Further information

About LifeArc

 LifeArc is the new name for MRC Technology, a medical research charity with a 25 year legacy of helping scientists and organisations turn their research into treatments and diagnostics for patients.

The new name reflects the charity’s purpose: to be the arc or bridge between research and improving patients’ lives.

LifeArc is pioneering new ways to turn great science into greater patient impact. It brings together a network of partners to tackle specific diseases and directly funds academic and early stage research.

So far, LifeArc’s work has helped to develop four drugs (Keytruda®, Actemra®, Tysabri® and Entyvio®) and a test for antimicrobial resistance.   Twitter @lifearc1

About Cancer Research UK’s Therapeutic Discovery Laboratories 

Cancer Research UK’s Therapeutic Discovery Laboratories (CRUK-TDL) is the charity’s in-house drug discovery unit based at the Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge, and the London Bioscience Innovation Centre. Its principal focus is to establish biologically-themed, multi-project alliances with industry, bringing together the best minds in cancer research with the rigour and drive of pharmaceutical and biotech companies to deliver breakthrough medicines for cancer patients.

CRUK-TDL comprises over 80 staff from both industrial and academic backgrounds with expertise spanning cancer target validation and disease positioning, immunology, assay development and HTS, protein crystallography, medicinal chemistry, PK-PD and cancer models.



About Cancer Research UK’s Commercial Partnerships Team

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. Our specialist Commercial Partnerships Team work closely with leading international cancer scientists and their institutes to protect intellectual property arising from their research and to establish links with commercial partners. The team develop promising ideas into successful cancer therapeutics, software, devices, diagnostics and enabling technologies. This helps to accelerate progress in exciting new discoveries in cancer research and bring new treatments to patients sooner.

Cancer Research UK’s commercial activity operates through Cancer Research Technology Ltd. (CRT), a wholly owned subsidiary of Cancer Research UK. It is the legal entity which pursues drug discovery research in themed alliance partnerships and delivers varied commercial partnering arrangements.