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Adrian Harris, MD, D.Phil
Professor of Medical Oncology,
University of Oxford
Director, Cancer Research UK Medical Oncology Unit
Oxford, United Kingdom
Goal: To identify strategies to prevent tumor growth.
Impact: Dr. Harris has discovered that tumor cells with a type of DNA repair defect may respond better to immunotherapy when it’s combined with drugs that kill tumors cells that are deficient in DNA repair.
What’s next: He plans to use a new technology that will help identify pathways that regulate blood vessels in breast cancer, which could inform the development of new targeted treatments for the disease.
To continue growing, breast cancer tumors must develop their own blood supply, and they do so by forming new blood vessels from ones that already exist. Dr. Harris is studying ways to prevent this process from occurring, which would starve tumors of the oxygen and nutrients they require. His work may reveal new strategies for preventing the growth of aggressive breast cancers.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Studying the tumor microenvironment in order to identify new targeted therapies that prevent tumor growth.
Impact: Tumors cannot grow without developing their own blood supply via angiogenesis, in which new blood vessels develop from pre-existing ones. Dr. Harris’ investigations into signaling pathways that regulate blood vessels in breast cancer could inform the development of breast cancer treatments that block the blood supply to tumors.
Current investigation: He and his team are studying the mechanisms of resistance to breast cancer therapy that are regulated by tumor angiogenesis and hypoxic metabolism, in which cancer cells adjust their metabolism to survive on very low amounts of oxygen.
They’re also evaluating outcomes in women who undergo shorter courses of radiation to assess both disease control and the side effects of treatment.
What he’s learned so far: Dr. Harris has discovered that cancer cells that have BRCA1 and BRCA2 deficiency made interferon—a protein that activates the immune system— at a higher level than normal. When they used drugs that are beneficial against BRCA deficient cells (such as PARP inhibitors, which inhibit DNA repair) there was a greatly increased interferon response, providing a rationale for combining PARP inhibitors with immunotherapy for a select subgroup of patients with this type of DNA repair defect.
What’s next: With the support of BCRF, Dr. Harris and his team will look at how radiation stimulates certain pathways that are involved in the immune response to radiation, and how these pathways can be explored to enhance radiation response. In a clinical setting, they plan to investigate how small changes in a person’s genome, called single nucleotide polymorphisms, may relate to side effects and toxicity to radiation.
Adrian L. Harris, MD, DPhil is Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Cancer Research UK Medical Oncology Unit. He is a Consultant Medical Oncologist at the National Health Service, Oxford Radcliffe Hospital Trust, a NIHR Comprehensive Biomedical Research Center designated by Cancer Research as one of three Comprehensive Cancer Centers.
Professor Harris's research is on tumor angiogenesis, hypoxia and the metabolic response to hypoxia as key targets for anti-cancer therapy. He is interested in understanding the basic biology and science of disease, how this could be applied in development of new treatments and selecting the right patients for the right therapies.
He received his Honors bachelor's degree in Medicine and Surgery in 1973 at Liverpool University, but undertook an intercalated Biochemistry degree (first class honors) in 1969. He worked at Oxford University from 1975-1978, where he conducted research on mechanisms of resistance to anti-cancer drugs. He then took up a lectureship at the Royal Marsden Hospital where he developed an interest in the endocrine therapy of breast cancer with Professor Ian Smith, and helped develop early aromatase inhibitors.
In 1981 he was appointed Professor of Clinical Oncology at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and in 1988 he was invited to Oxford to take up the foundation chair in Medical Oncology and lead the CRUK Molecular Oncology Laboratories at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, one of the leading basic science institutes in the United Kingdom.
BCRF Investigator Since
The Estée Lauder Companies’ UK & Ireland Award