Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) today announced a major research collaboration with AstraZeneca. The three partners will combine their expertise to discover and develop potential new anti-cancer drugs to target molecular “chaperones” which support the growth of cancer cells.
As part of the deal, AstraZeneca will contribute over £4 million to the three-year project. The ICR will lead the scientific work utilising £1.6 million in funding from Cancer Research UK, who supported the original lab-based discovery on which this work will now build.
Molecular chaperones play an essential ‘escort role’ by ensuring that newly made proteins adopt the correct shape to function correctly and also help normal cells to respond to stress. However, new research suggests that these same chaperones also contribute substantially to the activity of cancer-causing proteins and actually help cancer cells to survive and become more aggressive.
Professor Paul Workman, director of the Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics at The Institute for Cancer Research, Sutton, said: “We are very pleased to work with AstraZeneca, who bring great expertise in cancer drug discovery and development. By working together in this collaboration, we hope to exploit an ‘Achilles heel’ in the chaperone and stress pathways of cancer cells that will lead to the discovery of new powerful drugs to fight cancer.”
Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca has obtained an exclusive worldwide licence to commercialise the compounds developed during the collaboration. CRT and the ICR will receive up-front payments as well as milestone payments and royalties on any future sales resulting from the work.
Dr Les Hughes, AstraZeneca Vice President, Discovery for the Oncology and Infection Research Area, said: “We are impressed by the potential in these targets and are delighted to be joining forces with this world-renowned research team to progress this work. Drawing on our long history of discovering and developing cancer therapeutics, we aim to convert this early scientific promise into treatments that could make a real impact on the lives of cancer patients.”
Dr Phil L’Huillier, director of business management at CRT, added: “We’re delighted to be involved in this collaboration between the charity sector, industry and academia so that we can help create a comprehensive approach to finding new treatments to help to beat cancer. This deal signifies a shared commitment to ensuring that the understanding gained from Cancer Research UK’s early laboratory-based research work is given the investment necessary to ensure it reaches its full potential. Only time will tell if these potential targets will become workable treatments for cancer patients in the future, but this work shows great promise.”
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About Molecular Chaperones
Molecular chaperones are part of the essential support machinery of the cell. They play an ‘escort role’ by ensuring that newly made proteins are assembled correctly and help the cell respond to normal stress.
Researchers at the ICR have revealed many details of how these chaperones also assist with the production of cancer-causing proteins and how they help cancer cells to survive in the more stressful tumour environment. In addition, the work has shown how cancer cells become much more dependent than healthy cells on molecular chaperones for their growth and survival, which makes them excellent targets for cancer treatment.
The ICR team has already shown how several of the components of the chaperone system can be targeted to block the growth of cancer cells.
This collaboration will look for new proteins, excluding the well established HSP90 protein, to target in chaperone pathways. The hope is that this research will enable scientists to find new ways to intervene in chaperone functions.
Novel drugs which act in this way could result in the more effective destruction of cancer-causing proteins and at the same time antagonize the protective survival functions of chaperones, leading to powerful and selective killing of cancer cells. Full details of these novel targets have not been published but the ICR scientists have published extensively on the components of the stress pathway and on related chaperone targets.