Head and Neck Cancer Biology - Robert Metcalf

Rob Metcalf is a Medical Oncologist and Clinician Scientist treating patients with head and neck cancers with an academic focus on salivary gland cancers. Awarded his MBChB at Manchester in 2004, MRCP (UK) in 2007, and specialist training in 2015, he undertook a Clinical Fellowship at CRUK MI with the Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology group and obtained his PhD in 2016. Rob completed postdoctoral research in tumour-immunology in head and neck cancers based in the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammatory Research under Tracy Hussell. He is now the UK lead for salivary gland cancer through the International Rare Cancers Initiative. His current clinical practice is a research practice embedded in both the Head and Neck Cancer Team and the Experimental Cancer Medicine Team at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. Since 2017 he has been funded by the MCRC and US based Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation. He has also been awarded the prestigious University of Manchester Dean's Prize for Clinicians which funds both academic and clinical time and additional research costs to develop his leadership role in salivary gland cancer research.

The Head and Neck Cancer Biology group focus on salivary gland cancers because there is a significant unmet need in this patient group. Our primary aim is to develop a new biological understanding of how changes at the gene and protein level result in tumour growth and metastasis. This will be achieved through examination of genomic profiles in head and neck tumour samples in order to identify alterations that can be targeted by drug therapies. Novel insights provided by this approach will allow drugs to be screened using cell lines and mouse models. Those drugs which are found to be effective in laboratory studies will be taken forwards to clinical trials in patients with the goal of improving patient survival.

Approach to identify and validate candidate therapeutic targets in adenoid cystic carcinoma.


Initial research will focus on adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), working in collaboration with Caroline Dive CBE and the Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology group. ACC is a salivary gland cancer, which metastasises in over 50% of patients leading to a median survival of 3 years, with no effective drug therapies. Due to chromosomal rearrangements, 90% of ACC tumours are driven by overexpression of the myeloblastosis (MYB) transcription factor gene family members: a-MYB and c-MYB. The overall goal is to develop new therapies for ACC by identifying mechanisms through which MYB drives tumour growth and metastasis, and to develop predictive and prognostic biomarkers to optimise patient treatment.

Selected Publications

Rack S, Rahman R, Carter L, McKay C, Metcalf R. (2019)
Impact of tumour profiling on clinical trials in salivary gland cancer.
Clinical Otolaryngology 44(1):1-6. Article

Metcalf RL, Al-Hadithi E, Hopley N, Henry T, Hodgson C, McGurk A, Mansoor W, Hasan J. (2017)
Characterisation and risk assessment of venous thromboembolism in gastrointestinal cancers.
World J Gastrointest Oncol 9(9):363-371. PubMed abstract

Williamson S, Metcalf R, Trapani F, Mohan S, Antonello J, Abbott B, Leong HS, Chester C , Simms N, Polanski R, Nonaka D, Priest L, Fusi A, Carlsson F, Carlsson A, Hendrix M, Seftor R, Mrs. Elisabeth Seftor, Rothwell D, Hughes A, Hicks J, Miller C, Kuhn P, Brady G, Simpson K, Blackhall F, Dive C. (2016)
Vasculogenic Mimicry in Small Cell Lung Cancer.
Nature Communication 7:13322. PubMed abstract

Morrow CJ, Trapani F, Metcalf RL, Bertolini G, Hodgkinson CL, Khandelwal G, Kelly P, Galvin M, Carter L, Simpson KL, Williamson S, Wirth C, Simms N, Frankliln L, Frese KK, Rothwell DG, Nonaka D, Miller CJ, Brady G, Blackhall FH, Dive C. (2016)
Tumourigenic non-small-cell lung cancer mesenchymal circulating tumour cells: a clinical case study.
Annals of Oncology 27(6):1155-60. PubMed abstract

Hodgkinson CL, Morrow CJ, Li Y, Metcalf RL, Rothwell DG, Trapani F, Polanski R, Burt DJ, Simpson KL, Morris K, Pepper S, Nonaka D, Greystoke A, Kelly P, Bola B, Krebs MG, Antonello J, Ayub M, Faulkner S, Priest L, Carter L, Tate C, Miller CJ, Blackhall F, Brady G & Dive C. (2014)
Tumorigenicity and genetic profiling of circulating tumor cells in small-cell lung cancer.
Nature Medicine 20(8):897-903.  PubMed abstract


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