Developing new drugs is tough. But as illustrated by the results of an early stage trial of a new vaccine for brain tumours, our Clinical Development Partnership (CDP) scheme is playing a big part in developing treatments that may have never got off the ground otherwise.

In this guest post, Dr Victoria John, head of Cancer Research UK’s CDP explores what makes the programme tick, and how the scheme is bringing treatments closer to the patients who need them.

Dr Victoria John, head of Cancer Research UK’s CDP

Dr Victoria John, head of Cancer Research UK’s CDP

It can take a long time and a lot of hard work to go from an idea in a laboratory to a new cancer drug at a patient’s bedside.

Lab research is uncovering the mechanisms that drive cancer and identifying the chinks in its armour. But figuring out how to exploit those weaknesses – in a way that can actually tackle the disease – is a tough job.

And once you have a solution, it can be even tougher to determine whether it is safe to give to people, what the correct dose would be, and whether it’s effective compared to current treatments.

Taking what could be a promising new drug all the way from the lab bench to a fully approved treatment can be a massive investment for any organisation – in fact the average cost of bringing a new drug to market is estimated to be over three quarters of a billion pounds. And it’s particularly risky when a drug is first being trialled in patients.

This causes a bottleneck in drug development, where promising treatments can end up languishing on the shelf as the cost of their journey through trials becomes prohibitive. This is where we’ve stepped in.

From shelf to patient

Cancer Research UK’s Drug Development Office (DDO) has been helping develop cancer drugs for 25 years.

What makes our DDO so unique is that they have the facilities to manufacture and supply potential new treatments, and can partner with both academic institutes and pharmaceutical companies to take drugs through early clinical trials.

But that’s not all.


Developing drugs is expensive

In 2006 we launched the Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) scheme to give a second chance to potential drugs that pharmaceutical companies have decided not to invest in on their own.

Under the CDP model, the charity takes on the risk that may be too much for pharmaceutical companies, paying for and running early phase trials through the DDO.

It works like this: the pharmaceutical company grants Cancer Research UK a license to pick up that potential treatment and run the clinical trial – allowing the company to choose to further develop and market the drug if the results of the trials look good.

If the drug is approved (and it’s a big ‘if’) then – reflecting our early work – Cancer Research UK receives royalty payments, which we put straight back into further research.

Thanks to our network of experimental cancer medicine centres (ECMCs) we have the tools, expertise and cancer specialists needed to run a clinical study; it’s far easier for the DDO to conduct these trials with our existing infrastructure than it is for a drug company to build it from scratch.

So far, nine different treatments have entered the programme from six different pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Two of these drugs have now successfully reached the end of their trial.

One of them, a vaccine for glioblastoma, one of the most common and most deadly brain tumours, has exceeded expectations.

The pharmaceutical company who developed the drug, immatics, has agreed to take the drug back into development, something that would not have been possible had the early trials not been managed by us. This is fantastic news.

In the case of the other drug, an inhibitor of cancer cell growth known as an Aurora kinase inhibitor, the company, GlaxoSmithKline, decided not to pick the drug back up – but thanks to the flexibility of the CDP scheme, Cancer Research UK is free to try and find another partner to develop it further.

Kick starting development

With CDP, we’re helping to get drugs developed sooner and more efficiently and giving a second chance for stalled drugs to reach the patients who need them most.

We can also help develop drugs that fulfil a niche – such as drugs for rare cancers or those that target particular genetic faults – that may otherwise not get the funding and support they need.

We’re dedicated to bringing forward the day when all cancers are beaten. Supporting early clinical trials through our Drug Development Office, and through these Clinical Development Partnerships, is a key part of our weaponry in the fight against cancer, and it’s exciting to think about what might emerge from this scheme in the future.

Dr Victoria John, head of Cancer Research UK’s Clinical Development Partnership (CDP) scheme


  • For more on the CDP, take a look at this article from the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery

Image credit: pill image from Flickr