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At Tenovus Cancer Care we’ve funded life-saving and life-changing cancer research for over 50 years. We’re finding new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat it, as well as striving to find innovative ways to improve the lives of people living with cancer today.

Our research history

On 14th April 1967 the Tenovus Institute for Cancer Research, based at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, was opened by HRH Princess Margaret. In its 50 years, the Institute has made some ground-breaking cancer discoveries, changing the lives of cancer patients all over the world.

Leading the way in the use of antibodies as cancer treatments

In 1972, Tenovus Cancer Care scientists in Southampton found a way to identify and isolate proteins on the surface of a cancer cell. Using this discovery they then produced antibodies (a natural part of the human immune system) in the laboratory that could identify those proteins specific to the cancer cells and destroy them. This discovery heralded the beginning of what has become one of the most exciting classes of cancer drugs, with antibody therapies being used to treat thousands of people with cancer every day.

The advent of the world’s most widely used breast cancer drug

In 1973 Dr Arthur Walpole of ICI Pharmaceuticals wrote to the Tenovus Institute for Cancer Research asking them to investigate whether an experimental contraceptive drug called ICI46474 would have any effect on breast cancer cells. Our scientists supported the development with Dr Walpole and his colleague Dora Richardson, and in 1975, they showed that the drug Tamoxifen prevented the growth of breast cancer cells. Since then Tamoxifen has gone on to be the most successful and widely used breast cancer drug in the world, saving the lives of thousands of women.

Researchers at the Institute also collaborated with ICI Ltd in the development of ICI118630 (Zoladex) as part of the postgraduate studies of Kerry Walker. Zoladex went on to become a common therapy for both breast cancer and prostate cancer patients.

Revolutionising the treatment of Leukaemia

The most common form of leukaemia, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), accounts for around 30% of all diagnosed cases. In some cases the disease is very aggressive and requires intensive treatment, but in other cases the disease can be benign and not affect the life expectancy of the patient.

There was no way to tell which type of disease a patient with CLL had until 1999 when Tenovus Cancer Care funded clinician Professor Terry Hamlin and researcher Professor Freda Stevenson, discovered that CLL was in fact two diseases that could be differentiated between using a simple genetic test, revolutionising the treatment of the disease.

This work earned Professor Hamlin the prestigious Binet-Rai medal for his outstanding contribution to research into chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) from The International Workshop on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia.

Halting the spread of breast cancer

In 2011 a Tenovus Cancer Care funded PhD student, Dr Luke Piggott discovered how to target and kill breast cancer stem cells. These cells are normally resistant to commonly used cancer drugs and can cause the cancer to return and spread to other parts of the body.

Luke’s research showed that a cancer drug called TRAIL, which had not been used in the treatment of breast cancer before, turned off a specific protein which gives the cancer stem cells their drug resistance. Using this method they have achieved a 98% reduction in secondary tumours in the laboratory and it is also effective in eliminating cancer stem cells if they re-appear. His research could lead to the development of new treatments which target these normally drug-resistant cells preventing the life-threatening spread of tumours.

Improving the detection of prostate cancer

Dr Tim Wanger, a PhD student in 2011 looked into better ways to detect prostate cancer and tell if it’s likely to spread. Prostate cancer is a leading cause of death among men in the developed world because it recurs frequently when tumours re-grow and spread to bone and other organs. It is now emerging that so called cancer stem cells are resistant to chemotherapy and these cells have the ability to drive tumour re-growth, leading to incurable disease and tumours in other organs.

Tim’s work identified a new marker protein for these prostate cancer stem cells called TROP2 which is cleaved by enzymes from the prostate cancer stem cells and released into body fluids. This behaviour allowed him to test whether TROP2 levels in body fluids can be used to diagnose prostate cancer and whether they predict the aggressiveness of the tumour and/or disease free survival. Additional work will also investigate whether they can block its activity to prevent prostate cancer from recurring.

Innovation, involvement and implementation – our iGrants

In 2010 we began funding research outside the lab, which looked at how we could improve the quality of life for people living, with and beyond cancer. These exciting research projects called iGrants, began looking into what information, services, support and therapies are available to cancer patients and their families, as well as improving clinical processes and the use of new technology.

The benefits of singing for people affected by cancer

In 2011 we conducted research into the benefits of singing for cancer patients and their families. The results of that study were so positive that we applied for funding to set up more choirs. We were awarded a £1m Big Lottery Grant to set up 15 Sing with Us choirs across Wales. Over the next decade we launched even more choirs and continued to conduct research into the benefits.

In 2015 we celebrated 50 years of cancer research, and began a new study with the Royal College of Music in London to see if singing in one of our choirs had biological effects. The results of this study were fantastic and we announced our ‘More than Singing’ research in 2016.

The next step of this study was to launch two new choirs in London to help investigate the positive effects of choirs for people with cancer further, and we’ve recently received the exciting results.

Our research alumni

We have hundreds of distinguished research alumni who have received funding from us over the years. These world-class scientists, academics and healthcare professionals are now based all around the world, pioneering the next generation of cancer research, treatment and care.

Our involvement in research today

We stopped funding new research projects in 2020, but we’re determined research into cancer is given every chance to succeed so that we can find better ways to prevent, detect and treat it. We continue to support a range of ongoing projects and engage with many direct funders of cancer research to benefit everyone affected by cancer in Wales. You can read about the active research projects we are still funding and completed projects here.

We believe the involvement and insight of people with cancer should inform policy decisions and guide the direction and focus of future research. We are focussing now within on our campaigning and influencing work to make sure that this happens, and in 2022 we launched our All-Wales Cancer Community to make sure that the voice of people affected by cancer could influence research, as well as policy and services, right here in Wales.

If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, our free Support Line is there for you. Just call 0808 808 1010