Cancer Research UK and the Cancer Research Technology Pioneer Fund (CPF)* have committed £2.5 million in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US to tackle one of the toughest challenges in cancer that has thwarted researchers for more than 30 years.
Scientists will develop and test promising new molecules for targeting RAS, one of the most common driving mutations in aggressive, hard to treat cancers including pancreatic and lung cancer.
Scientists at the NCI in Frederick, Maryland, USA will work with the Drug Discovery Unit at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, Scotland to develop gold standard tests to analyse these novel RAS inhibitors.
This new collaboration links up with the NCI’s RAS Initiative which brings scientists together from around the globe to help develop drugs targeting the faulty protein. Launched in 2013, the initiative has established a hub of expertise that supports the international community in developments that could have huge clinical benefit.
The CRT Pioneer Fund, managed by Sixth Element Capital, will be responsible for the commercial exploitation of compounds that arise from the collaboration.
For decades, scientists have been attempting to target RAS,** but with little success. This is because RAS lacks an obvious site on its surface for potential drug molecules to fit into and inhibit its signalling.
Dr Martin Drysdale, head of the Drug Discovery Unit at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, said: “Our team is determined to challenge the dogma that RAS is ‘undruggable.’ This collaboration is our biggest yet and will double our resource targeting RAS. We are excited to be joining forces with the NCI in their pioneering RAS Initiative.”
“Instead of scientists working and thinking in isolation, the NCI has created a research hub to pull together all the best science and expertise. My team is looking forward to contributing and working with Dr Frank McCormick, who leads the RAS Initiative and who has been at the forefront of cancer science for many years.”
Dr Frank McCormick, who directs the research efforts of the RAS Initiative at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, sponsored by the NCI, said: “We’re making progress in our understanding of how RAS proteins function at the molecular level and how they form signalling complexes in membranes. New technologies and tools mean we can now analyse these proteins in ways that were not possible a few years ago, and can now test new ways of blocking RAS function.”
Dr Iain Foulkes, chief executive officer of Cancer Research Technology and executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s crucial that we unite the brightest minds across the globe. This international collaboration and investment could herald a new era in targeting RAS.
“We hope to develop these small molecules to pave the way for potential drugs in the future. Our aim is to work alongside industry to ensure any progress makes its way into clinical trials.”
Dr Robert James, Managing Partner at Sixth Element Capital, said: “The CRT Pioneer Fund was established to invest in outstanding science that has the potential to benefit patients on a global scale. We are delighted to have catalysed this relationship which has created an opportunity to make real progress in discovering drugs against RAS, one of the most important oncogenes in cancer.”
* Funding from the Cancer Research Technology Pioneer Fund (CPF), originally created as a joint initiative between CRT and the European Investment Fund
** At the cell membrane the RAS protein acts as a switch to send signals which tell the cell to grow and divide. Faulty versions of this protein cannot be switched off and causes too many of these signals to be produced – leading to cancer.