THEY are the husband and wife set to join Southampton’s frontline in the fight against cancer.

Sally Ward and Raimund Ober have spent more than 30 years working together to try to find new therapies to beat the disease from their lab in Texas, in the United States of America.

Now they’re preparing to make the 5,000-mile journey to move their specialist lab and home here in Southampton, thanks to a £2.2m grant from Cancer Research UK.

News of the grant, which will fund a specialist immunotherapy research project in the city over the next five years, can be revealed today as people around the globe unite to mark World Cancer Day.

The couple will be working for the University of Southampton's Centre for Cancer Immunology and  funding will enable them to focus on developing the next generation of antibody-drug conjugates which are a new form of targeted therapy used to treat some cancers.

While the development of antibody-drug conjugates has been an exciting leap forward, the drugs can be quite harsh.

In some cases they have proved simply too toxic for patients, or have caused negative side effects and had to be withdrawn.

Sally and 58-year-old Raimund hope to find ways to better engineer these drugs, as well as get an even clearer understanding of how they are working in the body in the hope to develop new drugs which are less harsh but just as effective in shrinking a tumour.

Sally, 57, said: “Packing up and moving our home isn’t something we have given much time to, it seems very low down the agenda compared to the enormous job of moving the lab to Southampton, but we will get to it eventually.

“There has been a huge amount of work involved in moving the laboratory that also extends to regulatory matters that need to be taken care of, but I think we are reasonably on track.”

Sally and Raimund’s lab is based in the new Centre for Cancer Immunology in the grounds of Southampton’s hospital.

The £25 million centre opened in the city last year after a major find raising drive which included a donation from multi-million selling group Coldplay.

It means that 150 staff and medical experts will begin work over the coming weeks in the state-of-the-art building that is the first centre of its kind in the UK.

The building houses clinical trial units and laboratories that medical experts will use to harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Sally said: “The attraction of Southampton is that there is this whole team of scientists and clinicians working there, fully integrated in one centre, in a really impressive building.

“Aside from the grants that made it possible, the prospect of being able to join this exciting team of great researchers and actually see how the results are being translated from bench to bedside was a big appeal.”

The couple have already recruited a number of key staff to work with them in Southampton.

Raimund said: “Science is becoming a very expensive business.

“Cancer Research UK has been responsible for a significant part of the funding we are receiving, and we are extremely grateful not only to the charity, but to each and every person who has donated money to fund research.

“This grant is critical in enabling us to come to Southampton and do the work we really want to do – without it this really would not have been possible.”

World Cancer Day aims to raise awareness of cancer and to promote its prevention, detection and treatment.

People are being urged to buy and wear one of Cancer Research UK’s brightly coloured Unity Bands with pride and show solidarity with those affected by cancer.

They come in three colours – pink, navy and blue. Every one bought raises donations to help fund crucial cancer research.

Jenny Makin, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Southampton, said: “Banding together on World Cancer Day is a unique way for people to unite with the rest of the UK and the world.

“It’s a chance to show that together, we will beat cancer.”

Last year Cancer Research UK spent more than £6m in Southampton on leading scientific and clinical research – helping more men, women and children survive cancer.

Unity Bands are available from the Cancer Research UK shops in Shirley, East Street and Portswood for a suggested donation of £2 each.