The world’s first ‘Darwinian’ drug discovery programme, specially designed to tackle cancer’s lethal ability to evolve resistance to treatment, is to be launched in a state-of-the-art new building in London.

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, is to invest an initial £75 million in creating a global centre of expertise in anti-evolution therapies – which hold the promise of outsmarting cancer to improve cure rates.

Cancer’s ability to constantly adapt, evolve, and develop drug resistance is what makes it so lethal – causing the vast majority of cancer deaths.
But scientists at the ICR aim to harness evolutionary science within a new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery to ‘herd’ cancers with anti-evolution drugs and combinations. They believe that this new approach can deliver long-term control and effective cures, just as comparable approaches have with HIV.

Senior scientists at the ICR argue that the traditional use of ‘shock and awe’ chemotherapy against cancer has failed because too often it has helped fuel ‘survival of the nastiest’ competition and evolution among cancer cells.

The new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery will instead bring together world-leading researchers from very different disciplines across drug discovery and evolutionary science under one roof to create new resistance-busting treatments – coming together with the joint aim to overcome or redirect the whole process of cancer evolution.

ICR researchers have shown that it is possible to use artificial intelligence and advanced maths to forecast how cancers will react when treated with a particular drug. By selecting an initial drug treatment, they have found they can force cancer cells to adapt in a way that makes them highly susceptible to a second drug or pushes them into an evolutionary dead end.

Herding cancer cells in this way through sequential use of cancer drugs could either eradicate the disease or turn incurable disease into a manageable chronic condition.

The ICR is also creating what researchers believe is the world’s first family of drugs to target cancer’s ability to evolve and become resistant to treatment. These potential drugs are being designed to stop the action of a molecule called APOBEC to reduce the rate of mutation in cancer cells, slow down evolution, and delay resistance.