Chief Executive, Institute of Cancer Research
Professor, Molecular Biology
Director, Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre
London, United Kingdom
Over the past year, Dr. Ashworth has focused on assessing whether a novel screening system, known as HTP screening, can be used to identify the genes that control the response to anti-cancer drugs. His initial work has shown that this new screening approach can help to identify genes that change the way cells respond to drugs such as PARP inhibitors. One of the major challenges in the treatment of breast cancer is the selection of the right treatment for the right patient, so that treatments are effective and minimize recurrences. Much of our understanding of breast cancer suggests that the genetic makeup of the tumor in part determines how a patient will respond to treatment. To extend our understanding in this area and to optimize how patients with breast cancer are treated, in the coming year Dr. Ashworth's team will use functional genomics to identify those genes in a tumor that modify the tumor cell response to therapy.
In June, Dr. Ashworth’s group proposed to carry out a study aimed at understanding how breast tumor cells respond to a novel drug type known as a CDK4/6 inhibitor. As part of these plans, the researchers aimed to develop a new system for assessing how each gene can alter the way tumor cells respond to drugs. Over the past six months, they have developed this new system, creating a collection or “library” of cells, each carrying a different mutation in a different gene. In total, this library encompasses 10,000 different cell types. They are now assessing how each of these 10,000 different cells responds to a CDK4/6 inhibitor that is currently being assessed in clinical trials. Dr. Ashworth’s intention is to then use this information to understand which breast cancer patients would best respond to CDK4/6 inhibitors.
Professor Alan Ashworth FRS, is Professor of Molecular Biology, Leader of the Gene Function team in The Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre and CEO of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).
Alan Ashworth joined the ICR in 1986 as a postdoctoral scientist in the Section of Cell and Molecular Biology and in 1999 he was appointed the first Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre. The Centre is now recognized internationally as one of the leading breast cancer centers and has more than 120 scientists and researchers working on aspects of the disease, ranging from basic molecular and cellular biology through to translational research and clinical trials. Professor Ashworth's Directorship ended in January 2011 when he took up the position of Chief Executive of the ICR.
One of Professor Ashworth's major contributions has been his work on genes involved in cancer risk. He was a key part of the team that in 1995 discovered the gene BRCA2, which is linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Ten years later, Professor Ashworth identified a way to exploit genetic weaknesses in cancer cells including mutated BRCA2, leading to a new approach to cancer treatment.
His current research reflects his passion for the development of personalized cancer medicine, translating laboratory studies into improvements in patient care. He is also joint leader, with Professor Tony Swerdlow, of one of the world’s most comprehensive and largest (>100,000 participants), studies of breast cancer causation, the Breakthrough Generations Study (http://www.breakthroughgenerations.org.uk).
Professor Ashworth is an elected member of European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the Academy of Medical Sciences. His contributions to mammalian genetics and identification and study of inherited breast cancer susceptibility genes saw him elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2008. He has been the recipient of a number of scientific prizes and awards including The European Society of Medical Oncology Lifetime Achievement Award, the David T. Workman Memorial Award of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation and the Meyenburg Foundation's Cancer Research Award.