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Our History and Achievements

The MRC Cancer Unit (formerly known as the MRC Cancer Cell Unit) was founded in 2001 by Professor Ron Laskey. It has become a leading centre for translational cancer research, delivering highly innovative research with substantial clinical impact. On 1st October 2013, we became the MRC Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge through a strategic alliance between the University and the MRC.

The Director of the Unit is Professor Ashok Venkitaraman.

The Unit is a key participant in the Cambridge Cancer Centre, and has a unique place in the MRC's portfolio of Unit research through its focus on disease-oriented translational research.

The Unit is recognized as a leading centre for academic research on cancer. Our researchers have published over 700 papers since 2001, which have been cited approximately 20,000 times, with several papers receiving many hundreds of citations. Our faculty have received multiple academic awards and honours. In addition, aspects of the Unit’s work have rapidly made a clinical or commercial impact. For example, Ron Laskey’s fundamental research on the control of DNA replication was translated by Nick Coleman into the development of MCM immunocytochemistry markers for cancer diagnosis between 2001-07. Rebecca Fitzgerald and colleagues have devised a non-endoscopic test for the diagnosis of Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer, comprising a Cytosponge (sponge-on-a-string) device and the biomarker TFF3. The test has been commercialized and approved for marketing in 2015 by the FDA. Ashok Venkitaraman and colleagues have created an integrated suite of new technologies to enable the systematic identification and validation of therapeutic targets for cancer and other diseases, which has led to the Cambridge University start-up company PhoreMost Ltd. Many other groups in the Unit have also filed patents and collaborated with clinicians in academic hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, illustrating the impact of the Unit’s work on patient health.