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Cancer research technology pioneer fund boosts investment in drugs that block cancer defences

Pathology slides (Jan Chlebik for the ICR, 2011)

Pathology slides (Jan Chlebik for the ICR, 2011)

The Cancer Research Technology (CRT) Pioneer Fund has today (Thursday) announced its investment in research to develop new drugs called heat-shock factor 1 (HSF1) pathway inhibitors, which have the potential to block a protective mechanism used by cancer cells.

The investment will support Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, who are designing the drugs, and will also fund a phase I clinical trial of the new approach to treatment.

Normally the HSF1 pathway is activated only when cells are stressed. The pathway sends a message to the nucleus to switch on stress response genes to protect healthy cells and tissues. But in cancer the cells are under constant stress and rely on the pathway to survive.

The researchers predict that blocking this pathway using HSF1 pathway inhibitors will stop cancer cells from growing and shrink tumours.

It’s hoped that the drugs will work in many cancers, including cancers where there is a high unmet need for new treatments.

Today’s investment is the sixth made by the CRT Pioneer Fund.

The fund was launched by CRT, the commercialisation arm of Cancer Research UK, and the European Investment Fund (EIF) in 2012 to bridge the funding gap between cancer drug discovery and early drug development. It is managed by Sixth Element Capital LLP and has received additional investment from BACIT Limited.

Ian Miscampbell, managing partner of Sixth Element Capital LLP, said: “We’re delighted to announce the CRT Pioneer Fund’s investment in the HSF1 project and to be collaborating again with The Institute of Cancer Research.  

“This investment will pave the way for potential new cancer drugs to be taken into phase I clinical trials. If the first studies are successful we will seek industry partners to further develop and commercialise these drugs.”

'Important milestone'

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive and President of the ICR and original leader of the HSF1 research programme, said: “There have been major steps forward in creating innovative new cancer treatments, but we still see many patients whose cancer has developed resistance to all available drugs, and there is an urgent need to find more treatment options. Cancer cells operate in a highly stressed state, and one tantalising possibility is to target pathways that help cancer cells survive levels of stress that would kill healthy cells.

“Blocking heat shock factor 1 disrupts a network of molecular signals that help cancer cells to survive, grow and spread, and has the potential to arrest cancer growth and shrink tumours. This new investment is an important milestone for our programme to develop drugs that could treat cancer in a completely new way by blocking heat shock factor 1, and will allow us to progress a drug into the first clinical trial in patients.

Dr Keith Blundy, Chief Executive of CRT, said: “We’re pleased to be funding even more excellent science through the CRT Pioneer Fund. The fund was set up to overcome the hurdles in early-stage drug development and ensure that cancer drugs make it all the way from the lab to patients. This latest investment is an important example of how we’re doing this with an interesting target that could hold real promise in treating cancer.”

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