Putting the world’s best minds on cancer’s greatest challenges
Identifying the greatest challenges and daring global teams to find solutions.
Cancer Grand Challenges is guided by our Scientific Committee and receives input from our Advocacy Panel to ensure those affected by cancer are positively impacted by the research we do.
Chaired by Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse, the Scientific Committee comprises eminent scientists from a diverse range of fields. They provide input at each step of the funding process, from working with scientists and advocates from around the world to identify the challenges, to assessing applications from the global teams who propose bold new approaches to tackle them. All final decisions are made by CRUK and NCI as joint funding partners.
With each member providing a different perspective on how to approach some of cancer’s most complex challenges, our Scientific Committee unites a diversity of experience and expertise to drive progress in a way that would be near-impossible with a narrow view of the world.
Learn more about how we work with advocates to embed the patient perspective across Cancer Grand Challenges.
Sir Paul Nurse (Chair), PhD, FRS, FMedSci, HonFREng, HonFBA, MAE
Chair of the Cancer Grand Challenges Scientific Committee, Sir Paul Nurse brings a lifetime of scientific excellence and intellectual rigour.
Sir Paul was jointly awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of protein molecules that control the division of cells in the cell cycle. He was knighted in 1999 and has since received the Légion d'honneur from France and the Order of the Rising Sun from Japan, in addition to the Louis Jeantet Prize and the Royal Society's Royal and Copley Medals. Sir Paul has served as President of the Royal Society, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and President of Rockefeller University and sat for 15 years on the UK Council of Science and Technology, advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet. He is currently a Chief Scientific Advisor for the European Union.
The Francis Crick Institute
Genetics, cell biology
Professor René Bernards, PhD
Professor René Bernards is best known for his work on tumour genetics to personalise treatments for people with cancer. His accomplishments include the development of MammaPrint – the first gene expression tool to be used for the diagnosis and clinical management of breast cancer – and of a vector system that can be used to identify potentially powerful combinations of cancer. Some of these combinations are now approved for clinical use.
Amongst René’s honours are the Pezcoller Foundation-FECS Recognition for Contribution to Oncology, the Ernst W Bertner Award for Cancer Research from the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award in Translational Research in Breast Cancer. He is also a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the AACR Academy.
Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI)
Professor Suzanne Cory, PhD, AC, FAA, FRS
Professor Suzanne Cory is one of the founders of the field of apoptosis – the study of how cells are programmed to die. Her work showed that, to cancer, blocking cell death is just as important as promoting cell growth, and her insights continue to have enormous impact in the cancer research field today.
Suzanne is a past President of the Australian Academy of Science and former Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. She has been elected to seven scientific academies and is a Companion in the Order of Australia.
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Professor Judy E Garber, MD, PhD
Professor Judy E Garber is a leader in clinical cancer genetics, with a special focus on the prevention and treatment of breast cancer in people who have a higher genetic risk of developing the disease. She has played a major role in the development of national guidelines for cancer genetics, including how high-risk people, particularly those with BRCA mutations, should be supported and treated.
Judy is a past President and current Member of the Foundation Board of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and a Fellow of the AACR Academy. She serves as the Scientific Director of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and was elected into the National Academy of Medicine in 2013. She also previously served on the National Cancer Advisory Board for the National Cancer Institute.
Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute / Harvard Medical School
Epidemiology, clinical research, genetics
Professor Edward E Harlow, PhD
As Vice Chair of the Scientific Committee, Professor Ed Harlow brings a wealth of experience from both academia and industry. Included among his many discoveries is the finding that tumour suppressors – the molecules that protect our cells from cancerous changes – are switched off by other molecules to promote the development of cancer. This discovery, made in the 1980s alongside fellow committee member Sir David Lane, represented a major advance in cancer biology.
Ed has helped guide the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) Provocative Questions initiative, designed to stimulate risky, early-stage cancer research, and continues to serve as special advisor to NCI Director and leadership, alongside his position at Harvard. He has been awarded the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor and has been elected to both the US National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
Harvard Medical School
Professor David Hunter, MBBS, ScD, FRACPHM
Professor David Hunter is a world-renowned epidemiologist and expert in global health. His early work focussed on HIV transmission in East Africa. More recently, David has led long-term population studies to better understand the links between cancer – especially breast, bowel, skin and prostate cancers – and its causes.
David founded the Program in Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, where he also served as a Dean. For 9 years, he co-chaired the steering committee of the Breast and Prostate Cancer Cohort Consortium at the National Cancer Institute, where he was appointed as an Eminent Scholar and co-directed the Cancer Genetic Susceptibility Markers project, among the first genome-wide association studies of cancers.
University of Oxford
Professor Nic Jones, PhD, FMedSci
Professor Nic Jones formerly served as the Director of both the CRUK Manchester Institute and the CRUK Manchester Major Centre, where he leads a research team investigating networks of molecules in cells that can help drive cancer development and growth. His research particularly focussed on networks that respond to many different signals – like growth factors – and control cellular processes, such as when to divide and when to self-destruct.
Nic spent 5 years as Chief Scientist of Cancer Research UK, where he helped to shape the charity’s life-saving work and translate it into new treatments for people with cancer.
University of Manchester
Professor Sir David Lane, PhD, FRS, FRSE
Professor Sir David Lane is one of the world’s most eminent cancer scientists. His discovery of the p53 protein in the 1970s revolutionised our understanding of how cells, including cancer cells, grow and divide. Dubbed the ‘guardian of the genome’, p53 was the first tumour suppressor found within our cells, and we now know that it is faulty or inactive in the majority of human cancers. Sir David continues to be a leading figure in the field of p53 and tumour suppressor research, in terms of both discovery research and drug development.
Knighted in 2000 for his services to science, Sir David is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He previously served as Chief Scientist of Cancer Research UK.
Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) / Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
Professor Crystal Mackall, MD
Professor Crystal Mackall is a paediatric oncologist who has pioneered immunotherapies for children with cancer. She has played a role in the development of important CAR-T cell therapies for leukaemia and has conducted many first-in-human and first-in-child clinical trials. Crystal’s work has transformed our understanding of how our T cells – the cancer-detecting cells of the immune system – are regulated, having identified the essential roles of the thymus and the protein IL-7 in this process.
Crystal leads an internationally recognised translational research programme at Stanford University and co-leads St Baldrick’s Foundation-Stand Up To Cancer Paediatric Dream Team, to develop new immunotherapies for childhood cancers that remain intractable to therapy. She previously served as Chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch at the US National Institutes of Health.
Immunology, clinical research
Professor Jill P Mesirov, PhD
Professor Jill Mesirov brings a wealth of mathematics and computer science expertise to the Committee, having spent many years applying her skills to solve challenges in the fields of science, engineering and business. Her current research focusses on using machine learning to better understand cancer biology and improve treatment. She is committed to bringing these techniques to the wider research community through the development of practical, accessible and open-source software tools – almost 500,000 researchers around the world are currently using these tools to facilitate their work.
Prior to joining University of California San Diego, Jill was Associate Director and Chief Informatics Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where she directed the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics program. Jill is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Mathematical Society, the International Society for Computational Biology and the Association for Women in Mathematics, for which she has previously served as President.
University of California San Diego School of Medicine
Mathematics, computer science, computational biology
Professor Barbara K Rimer, DrPH
Professor Barbara K. Rimer is a behavioural scientist with expertise in cancer prevention and motivating the public to make informed decisions around their own risk of cancer – such as attending cancer screening, quitting smoking or understanding more about their genetic risk. Barbara’s work has demonstrated that psychological and accessibility barriers to screening remain, even after economic barriers are removed, and she was the first researcher to develop smoking cessation interventions aimed specifically at older smokers. Her research has guided cancer practice and policy in the US for more than 30 years.
Barbara is the first woman and behavioural scientist to chair the National Cancer Institute’s National Cancer Advisory Board and was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Cancer Panel, which she chaired from 2011 to 2019. She is a recipient of the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor for her research into cancer control.
University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health
Public health, population biology
Professor Charles Swanton, MD, PhD, FRS, FMedSci, FRCP
Professor Charles Swanton combines his laboratory research with clinical duties and his work as director of the Cancer Research UK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence, focussed on how tumours evolve over space and time. Charles has helped to define the branched evolutionary histories of solid tumours, processes that drive cancer cell-to-cell variation in the form of new cancer mutations or chromosomal instabilities, and the impact of such cancer diversity on effective immune surveillance and clinical outcome.
Charles is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society and the American Association for Cancer Research. He is a Royal Society Napier Professor and was appointed Cancer Research UK’s Chief Clinician in 2017. Charles is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including: the Stand up to Cancer Translational Cancer Research Prize, GlaxoSmithKline Biochemical Society Prize, San Salvatore Prize for Cancer Research, the Ellison-Cliffe Medal, Royal Society of Medicine, the Gordon Hamilton Fairley Medal, the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre Kraft Prize for Excellence in Cancer Research, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer Paul A Bunn Scientific Award for achievements in lung cancer, the ESMO Award for Translational Research and the Bonnie J Addario Lectureship Award (GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer).
Across 2020, Charles played a vital role in setting up a COVID-19 testing facility at the Francis Crick Institute in London for frontline workers.
Cancer Research UK / The Francis Crick Institute
Cancer biology, clinical research
Professor Karen Vousden, CBE, PhD, FRS, FRSE, FMedSci
Professor Karen Vousden’s research homes in on two key questions: how do changes in metabolism affect the development and progression of cancer? And how does the protein p53 – a tumour suppressor that plays an important role in cancer prevention – control tumour development? Ultimately, the hope is to find new ways to translate this research to improve cancer therapy.
Karen has been elected as a Fellow of a number of prestigious organisations, including the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, EMBO, the European Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association of Cancer Research Academy and the National Academy of Sciences.
Cancer Research UK / The Francis Crick Institute