AstraZeneca said today it will undertake three clinical and preclinical cancer-related projects with the University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK (CRUK) under a two-year collaboration, and is launching a separate partnership to validate preclinical models for developing oncology drugs.
The pharma giant linked its collaboration with the U of Cambridge and CRUK to its planned relocation within the U.K. of its global R&D center and corporate headquarters to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. By 2016, the company will base investigators from its small molecule and MedImmune biologics units at the center, where they are expected to partner with researchers from the university, affiliated institutes, and the National Health Service.
AstraZeneca said it will work in one project with CRUK Cambridge Institute (CI) and the University of Cambridge’s department of oncology to evaluate a new technology that would allow clinicians to monitor tumor activity—including progression, response to therapy, and the onset of drug resistance—through blood tests and without biopsies. The aim of the collaboration is to use the tumor DNA present in the blood of patients to better understand the genetic makeup of their cancer, in order to make better decisions on therapy.
In a second project, CRUK CI and the university’s oncology department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge University Hospitals will join AstraZeneca in testing the potential effectiveness of its investigational therapies olaparib and AZD2014 in high-risk prostate cancer patients who now have a poor disease prognosis. The compounds will be tested in both preclinical models and early-phase clinical trials.
The third project will focus on identifying the best drug combinations for AstraZeneca’s investigational compound selumetinib in preclinical models. AstraZeneca will work with the Babraham Institute, CRUK CI, and the university’s oncology department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital to evaluate new therapeutic approaches for patients with pancreatic cancer.
Separately, a collaboration aimed at validating preclinical models in support of an undisclosed AstraZeneca oncology drug development program was announced today by a partner. Germany-based Blackfield said it will apply its genomics technologies and computational biology capabilities to the validation effort.
The partnership with AstraZeneca is the fourth forged with a pharma giant by Blackfield, a provider of genomics and sequencing-based technologies launched last year. The company’s founders include cancer researchers Axel Ullrich, director since 1988 of the molecular biology department at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany; and Roman Thomas, who heads the Department of Translational Genomics at the University of Cologne.
Blackfield’s main product is a customizable multigene assay designed to test tumor samples for genome alterations in more than 300 cancer-relevant genes. Earlier this year, Blackfield entered service agreements with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit, Merck KGaA, and Boehringer Ingelheim.