Cancer Research UK announced that it is funding three major new international research initiatives on the microbiome, chronic inflammation and why some cancers are specific to certain tissues and not others.

Multidisciplinary teams of scientists from across North America, the UK and Europe, and Israel will come together to explore these research challenges, which are currently some of the biggest in cancer research.

Collectively, the teams have been awarded almost £60 million.

These five-year research programmes will investigate how billions of microorganisms living in our bodies, called the microbiome, could be manipulated to treat bowel cancer; find new ways to tackle cancers linked to chronic inflammation; and develop a deeper understanding of why cancers develop in some tissues but not in others.

These initiatives represent the bold approach Cancer Research UK is taking in bringing the very best researchers from around the globe together to unite their talent, pool resources and crack some of the biggest questions in cancer research.

And for the first time, several major US institutions will be leading these projects as part of the Grand Challenge competition. They are the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston; and the University of California, San Francisco. They form part of a growing community of Cancer Research UK funded international researchers.

Dr Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said: “Individually, these research teams are among the best in the world in their respective fields. By bringing them together across borders, Grand Challenge is enabling these teams to think bigger and establish new and exciting collaborations. The scale of the funding reflects the opportunity we see in harnessing their ability to understand and tackle cancer.”

Manipulating the microbiome to beat bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 12% of all new cancer cases in 2015. Initial research suggests that a person’s microbiome – the collection of billions of microorganisms living in our bodies – may be linked to bowel cancer and their response to treatment.

Professor Matthew Meyerson at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, and Professor Wendy Garrett at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health will lead the project, along with researchers in the US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands and Spain, to explore the relationship between the microbiome and bowel cancer.

Finding new ways to tackle cancers linked to chronic inflammation

In another project, Professor Thea Tlsty at the University of California, San Francisco, and collaborators from the US, Canada, the UK and Israel will unravel how chronic inflammation is linked to cancer.

Understanding why cancers grow in some tissues but not others

Professor Stephen Elledge at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and collaborators from the US, the UK and the Netherlands are looking to understand why genetic faults only affect certain tissues.

This project is supported in partnership with The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research.

These teams will now join a growing community of Grand Challenge researchers, which first launched in 2015 and already includes four international teams announced in 2017.

Grand Challenge is open to scientists based anywhere in the world and from any discipline to bring innovative, international, and collaborative approaches to research.

The funding for these new projects comes from Cancer Research UK directly and with support from The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, based in New York, which are providing £10 million to the project led by Professor Stephen Elledge.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We’re excited to be able to fund such innovative research. These teams have five years to try to answer these complex questions about a disease that affects so many people, and we look forward to crossing new frontiers in our understanding of cancer.

“To reach our ambition of 3 in 4 people surviving their cancer by 2034, we need to collaborate not only with researchers from across the globe, but with funders in other countries who share our goals. Grand Challenge provides a perfect opportunity for us to partner with organisations like The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research and pool our resources to fund research that will transform the lives of patients with cancer.”