Cancer Research UK and Cancer Research Technology – the charity’s development and commercialisation arm – have reached an agreement with AstraZeneca to take AZD2098, an experimental drug originally designed for asthma, into a clinical trial to treat kidney cancer.
This is the third agreement the parties have made under the Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) scheme. CDP is a joint initiative between Cancer Research UK’s Drug Development Office (DDO) and Cancer Research Technology (CRT), to develop promising anti-cancer agents which pharmaceutical companies have not selected for further development and CRT is better placed to progress through early phase clinical trials. It is the ninth* treatment to enter Cancer Research UK's CDP scheme, with 6 having progressed into the clinic.
This deal with AstraZeneca will enable the charity’s Drug Development Office to complete preclinical development and carry out early clinical trials of the compound to see if it can benefit kidney cancer patients. Cancer Research UK’s DDO is also funding the early phase trial of AZD2098 in which up to 40 patients will take part commencing in 2015.
AZD2098 targets a molecule found on immune cells called CCR4, which is important for directing these cells to where they need to go. It is thought that in kidney cancer, immune cells move to the tumour because of this molecule. Once the immune cells arrive, the tumour often forces them to become inactive, or worse, help the cancer develop.
By blocking this function, AZD2098 may change the immune cell environment around the cancer, encouraging those cells to attack the tumour. CCR4 has also been found to be expressed on the surface of cancer cells, which may provide an additional way for this blocker to impair tumour growth. The work establishing the potential anti-tumour effect of AZD2098 was carried out by Professor Frances Balkwill at Queen Mary University of London’s Barts Cancer Institute and was supported by Cancer Research UK.
Professor Tom Powles, trial lead and Cancer Research UK clinician at Queen Mary University of London, said: "I’m excited that we will be able to repurpose this drug for the treatment of kidney cancer. The fact that we can now search for new treatments for cancer among drugs that were already in development for other diseases demonstrates how much more we understand the basic nature behind what drives cancer.
"AZD2098 potentially allows us to target the support network which helps keep cancer cells alive, and it may be particularly potent in kidney cancer. As cancer treatments become more and more refined and our ability to attack the disease from new angles increases, we hope to bring forward the day when we can cure this disease."
Susan Galbraith, Head of the Oncology Innovative Medicines Unit at AstraZeneca, commented, "We are pleased to see AZD2098 being taken forward by Cancer Research UK to assess a novel hypothesis identified in translational studies led by Professor Frances Balkwill in collaboration with scientists at AstraZeneca."
Around 9,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year and the incidence rates in Britain have more than doubled since the 1970s.
Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK’s director of drug development at the DDO, said: "We’re delighted to reach this agreement for such a promising new drug which can potentially wake up the immune system to help fight our cancer battles for us.
"This is the ninth drug from our CDP programme – without the scheme it simply might not have been possible to provide this drug to patients. We’ll continue to build on these successes to accelerate the development of further treatments though new trials of drugs which otherwise may not have reached patients for many years.