Empowering innovation: Cancer Research Horizons recognises trailblazers in oncology

Cancer Research Horizons, the innovation arm of Cancer Research UK, has announced the winners of its second Innovation & Entrepreneurship Awards.

In the field of oncology, the translation of innovative science faces numerous hurdles. These include securing initial funding amid increasing R&D costs and the necessity to gather specialised expertise to navigate scientific, entrepreneurial, financial and market challenges. The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Awards aim to celebrate researchers and innovators actively bridging the gap between oncology discoveries and positive patient outcomes. 

The winners of the 2024 edition have demonstrated entrepreneurial initiative, leadership, and innovation in advancing cancer research, developing novel therapies, diagnostics and medical devices. These awards aim to foster entrepreneurial thinking, innovative solutions and transformative partnerships and inspire the entire oncology community to join forces and catalyse further advances in the fight against cancer.

Dr Alessia Errico, Associate Director of Search & Evaluation and Entrepreneurial Programme Lead at Cancer Research Horizons, said: “We firmly believe that together, we can address one of the biggest societal challenges of our time, cancer. All the winners and participants in this year’s edition have demonstrated how, collectively, our efforts in drug discovery, diagnostics, commercial alliances, and nurturing startups are pivotal in translating breakthroughs into positive outcomes.” 

Read about all the honourees below.

Early-career Entrepreneur of the Year
Winner: Matt de Vries

Matt de Vries is a PhD researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research who gained funding through the Cancer Tech Accelerator programme for his startup Sentinal4D, an AI-powered cancer drug discovery company. Matt hopes his approach will reduce the costs of drugs, allowing better access.

Entrepreneurial Group Leader of the Year
Winner: Maike de la Roche

Maike de la Roche leads a cancer immunology group at the University of Cambridge. Her research aims to develop ways of stimulating the immune system to fight cancer. Her translational approach and entrepreneurial spirit are seen through her work developing novel therapies, which involves collaborating with commercial partners, undertaking clinical studies and attracting investment to progress her new CAR T-cell technology. 

Woman Entrepreneur of the Year
Winner: Ishani Malhotra

Ishani Malhotra is founder and CEO of Carcinotech, a MedTech company that is developing 3D-printed microtumour technology. She is successfully driving forward progress of her company, having raised several rounds of funding through both grants and private investment. Carcinotech’s vision is to provide personalised drug testing platforms to help to guide the treatment of cancer patients.

New Startup of the Year
Winner: Dotplot

Dotplot was founded in 2022 by Shefali Bohra and Deborah Babalola to develop an at-home breast health monitoring tool. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. Dotplot will help to diagnose breast cancer earlier, by offering the use of a handheld device paired with an app to identify changes in breast tissue density over time. 

Further, Faster, Together (Industry-Academia Collaboration)
Winners: University of Dundee and Boehringer Ingelheim, and University of Edinburgh and Nuvectis

The University of Dundee and Boehringer Ingelheim are collaborating on the development of proteolysis targeting chimaeras (PROTACS), novel drugs that target previously considered ‘undruggable’ drivers of cancer progression.

The University of Edinburgh have discovered a novel drug with a new mechanism of action, targeting SRC and YES1 kinases. They have partnered with Nuvectis Pharma and clinical studies are now underway in patients with advanced solid tumours.

Special recognition categories
Three special awards recognised contributions to the academic cancer entrepreneurial field. The judging panel selected winners from shortlists chosen by Cancer Research Horizons.

Entrepreneurship Recognition Award
Winner: Nitzan Rosenfeld

Nitzan Rosenfeld, Director of the Barts Cancer Institute, and former head of the Molecular and Computational Diagnostics Lab at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, led groundbreaking research on circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), driving the rapidly growing field of liquid biopsies for cancer. In 2014 he cofounded Inivata, a clinical cancer genomics company that quickly grew to 150 employees and raised over $150m. Inivata used its leading liquid biopsy technology platform to develop tests to support early detection ahead of clinical progression. NeoGenomics eventually acquired the company for $415m.

Horizons Explorer Recognition Award
Winner: Bart Vanhaesebroeck

Bart Vanhaesebroeck, Professor of Cell Signalling at the UCL Cancer Institute, has significantly advanced the understanding of PI 3-kinase (PI3K) enzymes’ roles in cancer, inflammation, and immunity. Innovatively, Vanhaesebroeck proposed using PI3K activators, instead of inhibitors, as a cancer treatment strategy, exploiting the concept that cancer cells could be overwhelmed and destroyed by further activating their oncogenic pathways. This approach challenges traditional cancer treatment methods and has shown promise in preliminary studies, especially against PI3K-mutant cancers and in tumour-like conditions. Vanhaesebroeck’s ongoing efforts aim to refine this strategy and prove its viability.

Startup Achievement Recognition Award
Winner: Artios Pharma

Artios Pharma, established in 2016 by Cancer Research UK and SV Health Investors, has progressed significantly in the field of DNA damage response (DDR) drug development. Artios collaborated with what is now the Cancer Research Horizons' Therapeutic Innovation division to help develop its lead programmes. With its proprietary DcoDeR platform, Artios has launched several clinical and preclinical programmes, including two notable DDR assets: an ATR inhibitor (ART0380) now in Phase 1/2a trials for advanced or metastatic solid tumours, and a pioneering orally dosed polymerase theta (Pol) inhibitor. The company aims to create and market novel cancer therapies, addressing unmet patient needs and contributing significantly to the UK's life science sector.

The winners were announced on 20 March 2024 during an awards ceremony at the Law Society, London, where rising stars, at different stages of their careers, met with seasoned entrepreneurs, industry experts and inspiring academics. 

The winners were chosen by judges, Olivia Cavlan (Alchemab Therapeutics), Peter Chambré (Cancer Research Horizons), Alison Howe (Strategic Consultants International), Yupar Myint (University of Cambridge), Ketan Patel (University of Oxford) and Jonathan Tobin (Brandon Capital).