Titles and Affiliations

Professor of Medical Oncology,
University of Oxford
Director, Cancer Research UK Medical Oncology Unit
Oxford University
Oxford, United Kingdom

Research area

Studying how tumor cells adapt to survive and identifying strategies to block these survival adaptations.


As tumors grow, their need for nutrients requires new blood vessel formation—a process called angiogenesis. In spite of this, anti-angiogenesis drugs that work in other types of cancer do not work in breast cancer. Dr. Harris is conducting studies to understand why targeting such an obvious tumor requirement  has not been effective in breast cancer.  His team discovered that tumors co-opt existing blood vessels rather than developing new blood vessels and they are investigating the signaling pathways that regulate this blood vessel growth in breast cancer tumors and hope to devise strategies for preventing this process. In addition to this process, his team is examining hypoxic metabolism—a common adaptation of tumor cells to survive on very low amounts of oxygen—as a mechanism of resistance to drugs or immunotherapy in breast cancer. It is critical to gain a better understanding of these processes to prevent the growth of aggressive breast cancers and inform the development of breast cancer treatments that block the blood supply and deprive tumor cells of nutrients and oxygen required for growth.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Harris’ team identified a correlation with a tumors ability to co-opt blood vesssels , hypoxic metabolism, and resistance to immunotherapies and are looking for ways to exploit these tumor adaptations to improve the efficacy of immunotherapy in treating breast cancer.  In the last year, the team has found that: under low oxygen conditions, the genes regulated by interferon (which are essential for an immune response) were suppressed—this supports the use of drugs that activate interferon in combination with new immunotherapy drugs to treat breast cancer; and triple-negative breast cancer cells take up an essential nutrient, glutamine, that helps the cancer cells survive and is associated with worse prognoses—the transporter involved is a potential new target for therapy.

What's next

Dr. Harris and his team will continue to investigate novel ways to target the blood supply and metabolic adaptations that promote breast cancer progression and metastasis. Building on previous results and recently developed laboratory models, his team will examine the spread of breast cancer to the lungs and determine how specific blood vessel cells mediate the immune response and facilitate this cancer spread. This will include identifying target proteins for new drug development.


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


Areas of Focus