Cancer Research UK will award up to £71 million to the first four winning teams of its Grand Challenge competition, set up to help overcome the biggest challenges facing cancer researchers in order to accelerate success in the global fight against the disease.

The charity says the winning projects are set to "revolutionise our understanding of cancer", as well as improve prevention, diagnoses and treatment of the disease in the future, through "unparalleled approaches" to developing pioneering solutions to major challenges in the area.

A team led by Professor Sir Mike Stratton at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, and including collaborators from France, the USA and UK, is being handed up to £20 million to look into new ways to prevent cancer by linking mutational signatures back to the events that caused them.

Up to £15 million will be made available to a project - co-funded by Dutch Cancer Society and led by Dr Jelle Wesseling at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, with collaborators from the USA, UK and Netherlands - that aims to distinguish between those women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS; a potential precursor to breast cancer) who need therapy and those who don't, to reduce over-treatment of the condition.

With funding of up to £16 million, Dr Josephine Bunch at the National Physical Laboratory, London is leading work on developing a means by which to combine new and existing technologies to create virtual representations of tumours, and a global database that catalogues their genetic make-up and metabolism, which could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

A project aiming to create a virtual reality 3D tumour map which will allow scientists and doctors to examine - for the first time and in unprecedented detail - the cellular and molecular make-up of a patient's entire tumour, in the hope of improving diagnosis and treatment for the disease, is in line for funding of up to £20 million. This work is being directed by Professor Greg Hannon at the University of Cambridge, and will be carried out with collaborators from Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, the USA and UK.

"When we began the Grand Challenge we sought scientific adventurers - people willing to come together in new ways, to think differently, and bring novel approaches to answer the big questions in cancer. These unique teams have done just that," said Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge advisory panel and former director of the National Cancer Institute, commenting on the winners.

"Cancer is a global problem, and these projects are part of the global solution," said Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive. "Together, we will redefine cancer - turning it from a disease that so many people die from, to one that many people can live with. We will reduce the number of people worldwide affected by cancer and achieve our goal of beating cancer sooner."

The charity established the Grand Challenge in 2015 with a commitment of £100 million to help increase the pace of research into grand challenges identified as representing major barriers to progress in the field.

Phase one received applications from more than 200 institutes, spanning 25 countries. Phase two, when CR UK plans to issue a set of revised challenges, will launch this summer, the charity noted.