What sets a scientist apart from the rest of the pack? I would suggest that timing plays a part, but I also have no doubt that you need to be innovative, diligent and dedicated to the cause in order to make the most out of the opportunities presented to you during your career.
Game-changer, world-class and field-leading are all adjectives usually attributed to these types of scientists. And these are all words I would use to describe the person chosen to take over leadership of the prestigious Breakthrough Toby Robins Breast Cancer Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research.
Earlier in 2014, Breakthrough announced that Professor Andrew Tutt, a clinical researcher who has been part of the Breakthrough family for some time, has taken over as Director of the Research Centre.
A breakthrough career
Andrew has been a leader within the Breakthrough community since 2007, when he was backed to run the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at King’s College London (KCL). This is a multi-disciplinary unit dedicated to research into an aggressive form of breast cancer called triple negative. But Andrew’s work with Breakthrough and the impact he has had on breast cancer research started long before then.
Andrew studied for his PhD through a clinical fellowship in the lab of Alan Ashworth at the Institute of Cancer Research. His work during this period contributed to the major discovery that certain BRCA2 mutations could be responsible for an increased likelihood of breast cancer.
Andrew also played a major role in the publication describing the effectiveness of PARP inhibitors as a treatment for BRCA mutant breast cancer. This work has directly led to PARP inhibitors entering phase III clinical trials for BRCA-associated breast and ovarian cancers.
As leader of the Breakthrough Unit at KCL, Andrew has made advances in identifying molecular markers that characterise triple-negative breast cancers, and those that may be responsible for the sub-type’s aggressive nature. Andrew’s work has also contributed to two high-impact papers released by the Sanger Institute in Cambridge which identified the mutational processes that drive breast cancer and contribute to the diversity of the disease.
Making a difference
Andrew has also been instrumental in translating laboratory findings into clinical benefit. His role as a consultant oncologist at Guy’s and St . Thomas’ Hospital allowed him to initiate the Triple Negative Trial (TNT). This phase III trial aims to determine whether the drug carboplatin is more effective than the standard of care (docetaxel) for women with triple negative breast cancer. In 2011 and 2013, Andrew led Breakthrough’s triple negative breast cancer conference which brought together an international panel of experts to discuss this sub-type of the disease.
Continuing his work on PARP inhibitors, Andrew also led proof-of-concept trials to determine the efficacy and safety of Olaparib in breast and ovarian cancer patients with BRCA mutations.
That’s an impressive CV. But you don’t get to the top without putting in the work, and having a game changing/world-class/field-leading clinical researcher like Andrew taking the helm of the largest dedicated breast cancer research centre in the UK can only be beneficial for science, research and, most importantly, patients.
In Andrew’s own words: “It’s an amazing opportunity. I love being a clinician, I love being in the clinic, I love trying to look after my patients. But I also love seeing what science and what scientists are understanding, and for me it’s translating those two things together and sitting with a foot in both camps. I can’t think of a better opportunity to do that than this job.”
Dr Matthew Lam is Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Senior Research Officer