Cancer Research UK is investing up to £16 million in programmes at institutes in Manchester and Glasgow, as well as awarding additional grants of up to £2.5 million each to the Universities of Southampton and Oxford, as part of the charity’s recent strategy to expand its expertise in small-molecule drug discovery.

The new money is going to drug discovery projects at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester and the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow. The Manchester programme will focus on new treatment options for areas of unmet need, such as rare cancers, while researchers at the Beatson Institute will use fragment-based screening to test thousands of molecule fragments against selected drug targets.

The additional grants to the Universities of Southampton and Oxford will fund work on therapeutic antibodies with potential to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight cancer. These grants are expected to have a five-year term.

Cancer Research UK has been making concerted efforts over the last few years to quicken the flow of new oncology compounds into clinical trials. Following a comprehensive review of its drug discovery activities in 2005/06, the charity launched a major strategic initiative to boost the level of cancer drug discovery research in the UK and improve the integration of drug discovery activities.

Dr Peter Sneddon, executive director of clinical and translational research funding at Cancer Research UK, said the latest investments were in line with an ambitious five-year plan that will see the charity spend around £300 million a year on core areas of science, including more funding for segments where cancer survival rates remain poor.

“Finding new drugs which work where others have failed will be core to us delivering this,” he added.