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Drug Development Unit

The Drug Development Unit was opened in February 2005 and is a joint unit of The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. In 2011, at the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre Network quinquennial review, the unit was given a rating of ‘outstanding’ for past work and future plans.

A nurse and patient at the Royal Marsden Hospital

The Drug Development Unit aims to seamlessly integrate preclinical drug discovery, proof-of-principle phase I trials and tumour-specific evaluation of novel agents. It is a conduit for the two-way communication between laboratory and clinical teams that is so essential for successful modern drug development.

The unit includes The Oak Foundation Drug Development Centre – housed within The Royal Marsden at the Sutton site and specifically designed for phase I clinical trials. Opened in February 2005, the centre provides 10 inpatient beds, five treatment chairs and two outpatient suites, and allows researchers to enter almost 300 patients onto phase I trials each year. This makes the unit one of the largest of its kind in the world. 

Many of these trials at the Drug Development Unit investigate ‘molecularly targeted treatments’, where treatments are matched to the particular molecular features of a patient’s tumour.

Staff at the unit molecularly characterise patients entering phase I studies by detecting mutations in tumours and in the blood.

Patients are then placed onto trials of agents targeting their mutations. Selecting patients for early-phase clinical trials in this way increases the likelihood that they will benefit from their treatment.

The eventual goal is fully personalised medicine, with drugs exploiting the specific weaknesses of a tumour at a particular point in time.