The Howat Foundation, founded by Malcolm and Margaret Howat in 2009, supports translational research benefiting cancer patients.
Their £3m gift, together with a further £1.5m from the Oxford Endowment Challenge Fund, will fund the Malcolm and Margaret Howat Chair in Clinical Oncology, a new permanent post currently held by Geoff Higgins, Associate Professor in the Department.
Geoff, who is also Honorary Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Oxford University Hospitals, runs laboratory and clinical research groups focused on developing treatments that make tumour cells more sensitive to radiotherapy.
The ATOM Trial
The Howat Foundation has previously funded Geoff’s work through ATOM, a study that explored whether atovaquone – a commonly used anti-malarial and pneumonia drug - could improve lung tumour receptiveness to cancer treatments.
Cancers metabolise a large amount of oxygen to create the energy needed to divide, grow and spread rapidly. This results in oxygen-starved, or ‘hypoxic’, environments around tumour cells, which allow tumours to behave more aggressively, making them more resistant to most treatments, especially radiotherapy.
Geoff’s group previously found the drug was able to increase the oxygen content of tumours, demonstrating its potential to help make tumours less resistant to radiotherapy treatment.
The team is now investigating this drug's potential in a further study funded by Cancer Research UK. They hope to demonstrate the safety of using atovaquone in combination with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, before assessing whether combining this drug with such treatments improves the survival of patients with lung cancer.
Following the permanent endowment of the chair, Professor Higgins will continue to develop new strategies to increase the ability of radiotherapy to kill tumour cells without exacerbating the side effects of treatment. Where possible, he will also stress-test these strategies in clinical trials.
Commenting on the news, he said:
'I’m delighted to be able to share the news of the new Malcolm and Margaret Howat Chair in Clinical Oncology. The Foundation’s endowment of the chair will enable us to develop new ways to improve the efficacy of radiotherapy and ultimately influence better outcomes for patients.'
Mark Middleton, Head of the Department and Co-Director of Oxford Cancer said:
'The Malcolm and Margaret Howat Chair in Clinical Oncology supports a key area of our research and a talented individual in Geoff Higgins. Through his research, multiple programmes have been developed in partnership with industry which are now being tested in the clinic and promise to move the field forward for years to come.’
Tim Elliott, Kidani Professor of Immuno-Oncology and Co-Director of Oxford Cancer, added:
'Donations like this are valued across the Oxford Cancer network and are critical for supporting our researchers’ diverse portfolios of ongoing research, aimed at predicting and detecting cancer earlier, devising new treatments and optimising existing ones. Without philanthropy, we simply couldn’t achieve the high level of research that we do.'
In a statement from the Howat Foundation, Malcolm Howat said:
'We are delighted to be able to fund the Malcolm and Margaret Howat Chair in Clinical Oncology at Oxford University. Geoff Higgins is an exceptional scientist; His work on the ATOM trial has produced results that have serious potential to change the way some cancers could be treated. We look forward to the breakthroughs in research that he will no doubt continue to have in the future.'