Public Release: 

Biggest database for cancer drug discovery goes 3-D

Cancer Research UK

THE world's largest database for cancer drug discovery has been revolutionised by adding 3D structures of faulty proteins and maps of cancer's communication networks, according to Cancer Research UK-funded research published in Nucleic Acid Research* today (Monday).

The updated canSAR database, developed at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, will allow scientists working in the UK and across the globe to design new cancer treatments more effectively.

The canSAR database** was launched in 2011 by researchers in the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) - with the ambitious goal of using Big Data approaches to build a detailed picture of how the majority of known human molecules behave.

canSAR has already collated billions of experimental measurements mapping the actions of one million drugs and chemicals on human proteins, and has combined these data with genetic information and results from clinical trials.

The new version of canSAR uses artificial intelligence to identify nooks and crannies on the surface of faulty cancer-causing molecules, as a key step in designing new drugs to block them. It also allows scientists to identify communication lines that can be intercepted within tumour cells, opening up potential new approaches for cancer treatment.

The growing database now holds the 3D structures of almost three million cavities on the surface of nearly 110,000 molecules.

Cancer Research UK and the ICR together ensure that this resource is free to use for researchers around the world, giving them speedy access to key information.

Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani, team leader in computational biology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, who led the Cancer Research UK-funded team that developed canSAR, said: "Our database is constantly growing with information and is the largest of its kind - with more than 140,000 users from over 175 countries. And we regularly develop new artificial intelligence technologies that help scientists make predictions and design experiments. Our aim is that cancer scientists will be armed with the data they need to carry out life-saving research into the most exciting drugs of the future.

"Scientists need to find all the information there is about a faulty gene or protein to understand whether a new drug might work. These data are vast and scattered, but the canSAR database brings them together and adds value by identifying hidden links and presenting the key information easily."

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and a Cancer Research UK Life Fellow, said: "The canSAR database is an important part of the overall drive to use Big Data approaches to understand and treat cancer more effectively. canSAR is a massively powerful resource that's used globally by researchers to gain rapid and easy to use access to a huge wealth of integrated knowledge in biology, chemistry and cancer medicine. This latest research has greatly enhanced the power of canSAR to enable scientists to select the best possible targets for future cancer drug discovery and also to help them develop really innovative drugs much more rapidly and effectively than ever before for the benefit of cancer patients worldwide."

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "This database makes masses of detailed scientific information about cancer available to scientists all over the world, and will speed up crucial advances in drug discovery - ultimately saving more lives. Finding new treatments for cancer can be a long and expensive process, so anything that cuts times and costs will help to bring the next generation of therapies to patients even sooner."


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editor:

* Tym et al. canSAR: an updated cancer research and drug discovery knowledgebase. Nucleic Acids Research. DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkv1030.

** The canSAR database is available online:

About canSAR

canSAR is an integrated database and workbench that brings together biological, chemical, pharmacological clinical data. Its goal is to integrate this information and make it accessible to cancer research scientists from multiple disciplines worldwide, in order to help with hypothesis generation in cancer research and support drug discovery decisions.

Users can search canSAR using text queries, protein/gene name searches, any keyword searches, chemical structure searches and sequence similarity searches.

Additionally, users can explore and filter chemical compound sets, view experimental data and produce summary plots.

About The Institute of Cancer Research, London

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world's most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients' lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and 'bench-to-bedside' approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.

As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR's mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.

  • Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.

  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.

  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.

  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years within the next 20 years.

  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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