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Partnership Targets Cancer-causing 'Chaperones'


Sunday 7 June 2009


Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) today announced a major research collaboration with AstraZeneca. The three partners will combine their expertise to discover and develop potential new anti-cancer drugs to target molecular ‘chaperones’ which support the growth of cancer cells.


As part of the deal, AstraZeneca will contribute more than £4 million to the three-year project. The ICR will lead the scientific work utilising £1.6 million in funding from Cancer Research UK, who supported the original laboratory-based discovery on which this work will now build.


Molecular chaperones play an essential ‘escort role’ by ensuring that newly made proteins adopt the correct shape to function correctly and also help normal cells to respond to stress. However, new research suggests that these same chaperones also contribute substantially to the activity of cancer-causing proteins and actually help cancer cells to survive and become more aggressive.


Professor Paul Workman, director of the Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics at the ICR's Sutton site, said: “We are very pleased to work with AstraZeneca, who bring great expertise in cancer drug discovery and development. 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.”


Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca has obtained an exclusive worldwide licence to commercialise the compounds developed during the collaboration. CRT and the ICR will receive up-front payments as well as milestone payments and royalties on any future sales resulting from the work.


Dr Les Hughes, AstraZeneca vice president, discovery for the oncology and infection research area, said: “We are impressed by the potential in these targets and are delighted to be joining forces with this world-renowned research team to progress this work. We aim to use our long-standing experience in discovering and developing cancer therapeutics to see this early scientific promise converted to drugs that will make a real impact on the lives of cancer patients.”


Dr Phil L’Huillier, director of business management at CRT, added: “We’re delighted to be involved in this collaboration between the charity sector, industry and academia so that we can help create a comprehensive approach to finding new treatments to help beat cancer. 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. Only time will tell if these potential targets will become workable treatments for cancer patients in the future, but this work shows great promise.”




For media enquiries, please contact Josie Gray in the Cancer Research Technology press office on 020 7061 8309 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.


Notes to editors:

About Molecular Chaperones

Molecular chaperones are part of the essential support machinery of the cell. They play an ‘escort role’ by ensuring that newly made proteins are assembled correctly and help the cell respond to normal stress.

Researchers at the ICR have revealed many details of how these chaperones also assist with the production of cancer-causing proteins and how they help cancer cells to survive in the more stressful tumour environment. In addition, the work has shown how cancer cells become much more dependent than healthy cells on molecular chaperones for their growth and survival, which makes them excellent targets for cancer treatment.

The ICR team has already shown how several of the components of the chaperone system can be targeted to block the growth of cancer cells. This collaboration will look for new proteins, excluding the well established HSP90 protein, to target in chaperone pathways. The hope is that this research will enable scientists to find new ways to intervene in chaperone functions.

Novel drugs which act in this way could result in the more effective destruction of cancer-causing proteins and at the same time antagonize the protective survival functions of chaperones, leading to powerful and selective killing of cancer cells. Full details of these novel targets have not been published but the ICR scientists have published extensively on the components of the stress pathway and on related chaperone targets.


About The Institute of Cancer Research 

The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. In 2009, the ICR marks its 100 years of groundbreaking research into cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic drug development team which has developed many drugs now used as standard cancer treatments.

It continues to be at the forefront of drug development, taking 10 cancer drugs to clinical trial in the past 10 years. For more information please visit:


About Cancer Research Technology

Cancer Research Technology Limited (CRT) is a specialist commercialisation and development company, which aims to develop new discoveries in cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients. CRT works closely with leading international cancer scientists and their institutes to protect intellectual property arising from their research and to establish links with commercial partners. CRT facilitates the discovery, development and marketing of new cancer therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics and enabling technologies. CRT is wholly owned by Cancer Research UK, the largest independent funder of cancer research in the world. For more information please visit:


About Cancer Research UK

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or please visit:


About AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca is a major international healthcare business engaged in the research, development, manufacturing and marketing of meaningful prescription medicines and supplier for healthcare services. AstraZeneca is one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies with healthcare sales of US$31.6 billion and is a leader in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neuroscience, respiratory, oncology and infectious disease medicines. For more information about please visit:

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