A HUGE £20m anonymous donation is to help ground-breaking Hampshire scientists carry out pioneering research into new ways of beating cancer.

Half of the cash is going to the University of Southampton to help build a cancer immunology centre, which is due to open in 2015.

The other £10m has been given to Cancer Research UK to help it construct the Francis Crick Institute for medical research, a £100m facility in London which will have links with the Southampton centre.

The research aims to harness the same cells within the body’s immune system that normally fight infections like flu or measles.

Scientists at the university believe these “killer” cells can be taught to control and shrink cancerous tumours, and provide long-lasting protection from the disease.

Southampton University has developed a global reputation for world-leading advances in cancer immunology, a process involving harnessing the body’s immune system to fight against tumours.

Its new centre will work at ways of turning the Institute’s discoveries into benefits for patients.

The university is also now launching a campaign to raise another £10m to go towards the centre and help further advance its cutting-edge research.

Professor Martin Glennie, Head of Cancer Sciences and Professor of Immunochemistry at the University of Southampton, said: “For many years researchers in Southampton have led the way in this fight.

“We were one of the first Units to isolate antibodies and develop vaccines that trigger immunity against cancers of the prostate, colon and against leukemia.

“We have been particularly successful at taking discoveries from the laboratory and offering them to patients in clinical trials.

“It has been a long wait, but this work is now paying dividends and shows the true potency of the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

"Our antibody discovery programme is already delivering new drugs to the clinic and with the new centre we can accelerate this process.”

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician who is based at the University of Southampton, said: “These two donations will transform our ability to move new immune treatments for cancer from the laboratories in the Francis Crick Institute to patients, through the new cancer immunology centre in Southampton.

“Harnessing the power of the immune system is one of the most promising areas of new cancer treatment, and this far-sighted initiative will really make a difference to both our scientific understanding and its practical application in the clinic.”

Professor Don Nutbeam, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton said: “This is an extraordinary act of generosity by a very special individual.

“This donation of £10 million is the largest ever gift received by the University of Southampton and will enable us to create and develop this new centre for cancer immunology research.

“This remarkable gift allows us to build on our expertise and expand the research teams in Southampton to make even greater progress in developing new treatments.

"The next few years will see great progress in immune therapies for cancer with the University of Southampton and the Francis Crick Institute at the very forefront of discovery.”