Main Menu

‘Next generation’ cancer drug shows promise in early trial

A new potential cancer drug has shown promising results in an early stage clinical trial. The drug, called AUY922, could help lead to a new way to treat a wide range of cancers including breast and lung cancer.

The first-in-human Phase I trial, carried out by a team of investigators led by Dr Udai Banerji of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, was designed to test the safety of the drug in patients and to determine if the drug target was inhibited. Researchers tested the drug in 101 patients with advanced tumours, including patients with colon, lung, breast and ovarian cancer.

The results, published today (11 June) in Clinical Cancer Research, showed that the drug was well tolerated with no lasting side effects in patients. It also met key scientific objectives of showing good levels of exposure to the drug in the blood, and that AUY922 blocked its intended target in tumours, a protein called Heat Shock Protein 90 (HSP90).

AUY922 is a leading ‘next generation’ HSP90 inhibitor being developed for a range of common cancers including lung and breast cancer. It is from a family of molecules, initially discovered at the ICR, which target a protein called Heat-Shock Protein 90 (HSP90) that helps to stabilise other cancer-causing proteins in cancer cells, allowing them to grow uncontrollably.

Earlier HSP90 inhibitor drugs had shown promise in killing cancer cells but had significant limitations in patients, such as causing liver damage.

Dr Udai Banerji, Cancer Research UK Senior Lecturer at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Honorary Consultant at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Many cancers have a weakness – they rely on a protein called Heat Shock Protein 90, which stabilizes other cancer-causing oncoproteins. AUY922 is a drug that targets HSP90, leading to removal of these oncoproteins from cancer cells.

“We were very excited to see our results, which show that treatment with AUY922 led to the breakdown of oncoproteins. It means we are getting closer to targeting this weakness in some cancers without causing lasting side effects.

“This study gives the green light to move forward with this drug as quickly as possible. Phase II trials have already begun, and initial results suggest AUY922 may be effective. This will take us another step closer to making a new cancer treatment a reality.”

Professor Paul Workman, director of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and Deputy Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, whose team discovered the first prototype drugs of this new generation HSP90 inhibitors (1), said:

“We are delighted to see our initial discovery leading to such promising early results in cancer patients. At The Institute of Cancer Research, we initiated the research leading to AUY922 at a time when many people were rather sceptical about the HSP90 approach to treating cancer. We discovered the first inhibitors of this new class and then collaborated with Vernalis plc to discover the final drug molecule and help it progress to the clinic.

“It is very exciting that AUY922 seems to work, as we predicted, and at the same time is well tolerated by patients. Follow-on research is now showing very promising effects for AUY922 in forms of breast and lung cancer.

“AUY922 is one of a new class of drugs to target an absolutely fundamental process in many cancers. It contrasts with other ‘personalised’ drugs under development, which are focussed on very specific processes in specific cancers.

“One of the most promising things about this study is that it could help lead to new treatments for cancers which are resistant to more personalised drugs.”


 - ENDS -

Notes to Editors

  1. The project that led to the discovery of AUY922 was initiated in 2001 by Professor Paul Workman’s team at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, who discovered the first prototype drugs of this new generation of HSP90 inhibitors. The ICR researchers then collaborated with Vernalis plc (LSE: VER) to identify AUY922 as a drug candidate. This was then on- licensed by Vernalis plc to the global pharmaceutical company Novartis who are now responsible for clinical testing of AUY922 in cancer patients.


The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world’s most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients’ lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.

As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR’s mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit


The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education.

Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 50,000 patients every year. It is a centre of excellence with an international reputation for groundbreaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies. The Royal Marsden also provides community services in the London boroughs of Sutton and Merton and in June 2010, along with the ICR, the Trust launched a new academic partnership with Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex.

Since 2004, the hospital’s charity, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, has helped raise over £100 million to build theatres, diagnostic centres, and drug development units.

Prince William became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital.

For more information, visit

comments powered by Disqus