Southampton scientists have been armed with more than £1m to help them win their ongoing battle with cancer.

Scientists at the University of Southampton aim to continue their ground-breaking work into developing cancer drugs that boost survival rates for all patients fighting the devastating disease.

The project involves a new class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies which “rev-up” the body’s defence systems to target and kill cancer cells.

Currently this type of treatment works well for many lymphoma patients, but sometimes it fails in patients with certain forms of the disease, so this pioneering work aims to find out why this happens and ensure all patients have the best chance to win their battle.

The monoclonal antibodies bind to proteins on the surface of lymphoma cells and also to receptors on the patient’s immune cells. It is these interactions that then activate the immune cells to kill the cancer cells.

Mark Cragg, professor of experimental cancer research who is leading the team at the University of Southampton, said: “The success of monoclonal antibodies is determined by a key group of receptors which are themselves influenced by the genetic make-up of the patient and the activation state of the immune cells surrounding the tumour.

“We believe that we can use drugs to manipulate these receptors, helping to “rev-up” the immune cells and better target the tumour cells for destruction.”

The researchers believe that the effectiveness of antibody drugs can be enhanced by manipulating the way they interact with and activate the cancer attacking immune cells, making sure the sub-types of lymphoma currently unaffected by the drugs, are successfully treated.

By following the progress of patients in cutting-edge clinical trials, the team will be able to see how different patterns of receptor activity determine responses to these antibody drugs. Professor Chris Bunce, from Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research which awarded the grant, added: “Monoclonal antibodies have shown much promise in the treatment of lymphoma, but not all patients respond to them.

“This programme should lead to a better understanding of why some patients fail treatment and also to the identification of drugs that can overcome these defects.”