The Therapeutics Consortium agreement enables collaborative research between Consortium companies and academics across Cambridge. There are ongoing projects within the Department of Physiology, Neuroscience and Development, the Department of Biochemistry, the Clinical School, the CRUK Cancer Insitute and the Babraham Insitute. Two examples of these projects are described below.
AstraZeneca/University of Cambridge
One of the first collaborative projects to be realised by the Consortium is a partnership between AstraZeneca and Professor Carlos Caldas at the University of Cambridge to investigate how different sub-types of breast cancer respond to different treatments. This research will help ensure that the most efficacious drugs are prescribed to individual patients.
Breast cancer consists of a number of different genomic sub-types which makes effective treatment challenging and prognosis variable. Some sub-types respond well to particular drugs or drug combinations whereas others are resistant. There is an urgent medical need to understand how and why particular sub-types respond differently to treatment. Professor Caldas has pioneered the development of a bio-bank of breast cancer patient-derived tumour cells and tissues (PDTC and PDTX) which have greater predictive power for clinical outcome than other preclinical models (e.g. cancer cell lines).
This project will enable AstraZeneca compounds and compound combinations to be tested in the human tumour models to detect and characterise the molecular mechanisms behind response and resistance to treatment in different breast cancer sub-types. The work will include analysis of pathway biomarkers, pathway ‘output’ measurements, analysis of apoptosis markers, gene expression profiling and analysis of potential feedback mechanisms, looking for potential resistance mechanisms.
Knowledge, compounds and equipment will be shared freely between the partners, connecting the expertise of the Caldas lab in ex vivo PDTC culture systems with compound information and state of the art robotics instrumentation in the AstraZeneca labs at the CRUK Cambridge Institute.
Another collaborative project started in 2015, is a partnership between Astex and Dr Simon Cook at the Babraham Institute to study modulators of the ERK/MAPK pathway. The aim of this collaboration is to investigate the significance of modulation of the ERK pathway in cell lines and the consequences for cancer cell growth inhibition and adaptive resistance. Targeting this pathway has been very successful in oncology therapy yet there remain many cancers that have an activated ERK pathway but do not respond to current BRAF or MEK inhibitors. The work will involve a detailed study of the ERK pathway and how it changes in response to different modes of inhibition. The aim is to understand better how ERK modulation affects cancer cell proliferation and apoptosis and how this may guide preclinical cancer research and drug discovery.