Company commits £4 million to project, and Cancer Research UK pledges another £1.6 million.

AstraZeneca, Cancer Research Technology, and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are joining forces to discover and develop new drugs targeting molecular chaperones that support cancer cell growth. AstraZeneca will invest £4 million (almost $6.4 million) over the next three years, and Cancer Research UK will provide another £1.6 million ($2.55 million) to start research at ICR.

The work will focus on the search for chaperone pathway proteins excluding HSP90 that could be targeted to block the growth of cancer cells. Under terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca retains an exclusive, worldwide license to commercialize compounds developed during the collaboration.  CRT and ICR will receive up-front payments, milestones, and potential sales royalties.

Molecular chaperones play an essential role in ensuring newly made proteins are correctly assembled and helping the cell respond to normal stress. ICR research has found, however, that such molecules also play a role in the production of cancer-causing proteins and the survival of cancer cells in the tumor environment. The institute’s studies also suggest that cancer cells are more dependent than normal cells on molecular chaperones for growth and survival, making such molecules ideal targets for cancer treatment.

 “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,” says Paul Workman, director of the Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics at the ICR.

While the future of molecular chaperones as workable targets for cancer therapy has yet to be determined, the concept shows great promise, according to Phil L’Huillier, director of business management at CRT. “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”.

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