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Sussex researcher receives £187,500 from charity to develop new drugs for cancer

Professor John Spencer

The charity Worldwide Cancer Research has awarded researchers at the University of Sussex £187,500 to continue their development of a potential new cancer drug. The research, led by Professor John Spencer, could one day lead to a new way to treat many different types of cancer.

The award, which was secured after a “Dragons Den” style meeting involving some of the world’s leading cancer researchers, will allow Professor Spencer to drive a drug discovery program that aims to develop a new cancer drug that re-activates a protein scientists call “the guardian of the genome”, also known as p53. The potential drug targets a fault in p53 that is found in around 100,000 new cancer cases each year.

The fault in p53 is like a missing brick in a wall, causing the protein to become unstable. This “gap” in the protein causes it to break down before it has chance to carry out its normal functions, which includes stopping cancer cells from growing and dividing. The drugs the lab is trying to create “plug the gap” in the faulty p53 protein and stabilise it, allowing normal function to be resumed.

Professor Spencer wants to identify drug compounds that are the most likely to succeed in becoming a new cancer drug. They will run tests on the toxicity of the drugs to help make sure that negative side effects are reduced, they will test the selectivity of the drugs to ensure that the ones they pick are targeted towards cancer cells with the faulty p53 and won’t harm normal cells. Ultimately, this research could lay the foundations towards the future development of a brand new drug capable of targeting a wide range of cancers.

Professor John Spencer said: “Being able to apply for funding from organisations such as Worldwide Cancer Research is vital for us to carry out the fundamental research that’s needed to develop the next generation of cancer treatments. But the benefits of the funding also go beyond the science. Previous support from Worldwide Cancer Research has enabled students of mine to achieve PhDs in cancer research as well as supporting postgraduates in my lab. These are the innovative researchers of tomorrow that we need to invest in today, in order to secure future breakthroughs in cancer research.”

Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, said: “We are delighted to be able to continue supporting Professor Spencer at the University of Sussex. His work on new drugs that target the protein p53 has the potential to one day produce new treatments that could be used to treat many people with different cancers.”

The grant awarded to Professor Spencer is one of 20 new projects the charity Worldwide Cancer Research have committed to fund from 2018. Close to £4 million has been raised for these projects through generous contributions from the public.

Professor John Spencer’s project is being carried out in collaboration with Professor Sir Alan Fersht at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, and Dr Andreas Joerger from the German Cancer Consortium.

To donate to Worldwide Cancer Research, please visit  

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By: Jessica Gowers
Last updated: Thursday, 25 January 2018