Senescent cells are those which after many rounds of cell growth and division enter a ‘sleep’ phase where the normal cell cycle is stopped. This blocks the uncontrolled growth and division of cells. It is a natural mechanism to prevent cancer. But cancer cells find ways to trick their way past this block and continue to grow and divide.
Understanding the triggers to cell ageing may reveal molecular targets for completely new ways to treat cancer.
The Senectus consortium,** a group of Cancer Research UK experts in senescence, has developed a screening platform to identify compounds which trigger this cancer cell ageing process and also find potential new drug targets.
The deal will allow the consortium to screen a well characterised sub-set of AstraZeneca’s compound library to identify those which potentially trigger senescence. Thereafter the parties will decide how or if they want to progress individual compounds.
Dr Phil L’Huillier, Cancer Research Technology’s director of business development and chairman of Senectus Therapeutics, said: “The collaboration with Senectus is one of a number of initiatives that AstraZeneca has put in place to use its compound library in early stage research, to explore novel mechanisms that may lead to new therapeutics. The collaboration recognises the value and potential AstraZeneca attributes to the Senectus screening platform.
“Before now, there hasn’t been a reliable and robust process to identify compounds which trigger senescence. The Senectus consortium has addressed these hurdles and developed the relevant tools and approaches to identify the ways by which cancer cells escape cell ageing. This opens up an exciting and valuable area for scientists to discover new routes to treat cancer.”
Through this collaboration AstraZeneca has the opportunity to extend the agreement with Senectus to investigate any compounds with properties that may lead to future cancer treatments.
Dr. Paul Elvin, principal scientist, AstraZeneca, said: “Collaboration with Senectus complements their knowledge-base and experimental platform with well characterised molecules that will provide insight into the nature of some key drivers of senescence.”
Nicol Keith, Cancer Research UK’s Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Glasgow, and co-ordinator of the Senectus team, said: “The joint work programme with AstraZeneca emphasises the importance of senescence as an exciting, untapped pool of new therapeutic targets which could provide potential new routes to treat cancer.
“To date there has been very little progress in translating laboratory findings into therapeutic targets. By bringing together these expert groups from industry and academia we have the best group of people to speed up development in this area.”
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Senectus Therapeutics received £0.5m grant from Cancer Research UK’s Discovery Committee in May 2008 and has just secured a further two years of funding also for £0.5m.
Senectus Therapeutics protects and markets research produced by the Senectus consortium – comprising Cancer Research UK scientists with expertise in senescence brought together to further research in the field.
Compounds which have been designed to modulate a variety of validated drug targets to treat a range of diseases including cancer. These compounds are suitable to be tested in live models.
In May 2009, Senectus Therapeutics Ltd., was incorporated as a ‘virtual company’ to directly manage any intellectual property generated by the consortium. Formation of Senectus Therapeutics enables any intellectual property to be managed by the company and facilitates negotiations with any third party looking for investment or collaborative interactions. The company is managed by CRT.