OCA invests £900,000 in new research to create better ovarian cancer treatments

29 October 2019
Rosa and Ahmed cropped

At Ovarian Cancer Action we believe putting women first means putting research first. That’s why we’re working to help transform how long and how well women will live by funding research that focuses on the prevention, early detection, and treatment of ovarian cancer. 

We’re thrilled to announce that we have awarded £900,000 to two brand new research projects whose goal is to create new and better treatments for ovarian cancer patients. These grants bring the grand total of research we’ve funded to £12.3 million. 

How can we boost the immune system to fight ovarian cancer?

The first grant goes to Professor Ahmed Ahmed’s innovative immunotherapy project, which aims to enhance the power of the patient’s immune system in such a way that it can destroy their cancer.

Immunotherapy is a highly effective type of treatment that is revolutionising the treatment of some other cancers, such as lung cancer and melanoma. Professor Ahmed and his team at Oxford University’s Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine are determined to ensure ovarian cancer patients will benefit too.

The challenge is this: ovarian cancer cells have developed a particularly clever way to exhaust the patient’s immune system so it cannot do its job – which in this case is to spot and attack cancer cells. However, one way to re-energise the immune system is to develop vaccines, created by extracting immune cells called T-cells from the patient, giving these a boost in the lab, and putting them back into the patient. Scientists have already found this vaccination technique is a powerful way to treat certain cancers and Professor Ahmed’s goal is to create an ovarian cancer vaccine. His team will test out if T-cells can be trained to target a specific mutation in an ovarian cancer cell, and kill all cancer cells in the body.

BriTROC-2: how can we match patients to the best treatments?

The second grant is for BriTROC-2, a nationwide research project led by Professor Iain McNeish from the OCA Research Centre and Dr James Brenton from CRUK Cambridge Centre. Their goal is to help personalise and create new treatments for women with High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer (HGSOC).

By personalised medicine, we mean medicine that is matched or tailored to the patient. Although HGSOC is one disease, two seemingly identical patients can respond well to different treatments, one may even be more likely to relapse.

The original BriTROC project, led by the same team, begun to uncover why this is: there are tiny genetic differences between ovarian cancer tumours that can occur as the cancer grows. And these differences explain why some cancers respond well, and others poorly to certain treatments. By analysing samples donated by patients, BriTROC found that one of seven unique ‘signatures’ was being written into ovarian cancer’s DNA as it developed. Each signature, classified by a cluster of tiny genetic changes, offers a vital clue about how the patient should be treated.

Now, BriTROC-2 scientists are putting new samples under the microscope – to better understand these seven clues and find new ones to help improve the treatment of ovarian cancer patients.

Next generation research for next generation lives

We’ll keep you updated on the progress these exciting new projects make. Click here to read more about the next generation of research we’re funding to help women today and for generations to come.