Cancer Research UK has joined forces with Astellas Pharma Inc to find new drug targets, with an initial focus on pancreatic cancer and autophagy.

As part of a new collaboration, Cancer Research UKand Astellaswill conduct a two-year research programme in the UK to find promising new drug targets for pancreatic cancer.

Certain pancreatic cancers are dependent on autophagy, the process of consuming your own cellular parts for energy, in order to grow. Blocking this pathway may help stop some pancreatic cancers.

Professor Kevin Ryan, a scientist based at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, said: "This is an exciting opportunity to develop new drugs for pancreatic cancer where there is an urgent need for new treatments. Research suggests that pancreatic cancer can be dependent on autophagy making it an excellent pathway to target for drug discovery."

Under the terms of the deal, the groups will work together to identify and then validate the best possible drug targets to block the autophagy pathway in pancreatic cancer cells.

Further reading: Lifestyle changes can prevent deadly pancreatic cancer, study says

This research will be carried out by Prof Ryan and Dr Sharon Tooze with Astellas gaining exclusive licence to progress the most promising candidates through further drug discovery and development, subject to certain milestone and royalty payments to CRT. 

Kenji Yasukawa, Chief Strategy Officer for Astellas, said "Since May 2013, Astellas has invited researchers from around the world to collaborate to increase drug discovery opportunities and expand development pipelines. The aim is to establish links with overseas researchers who have ideas that possess a high level of novelty and creativity. This consortium with Cancer Research UK and CRT is one of the collaborations to be achieved through this global initiative."

Every year 8,800 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK but survival rates remain very low, with only 3% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer surviving their disease for five years or more after their diagnosis.

Dr Keith Blundy, Cancer Research Technology’s chief executive officer, concluded: “In establishing this significant collaboration, the first of its kind between CRT and a Japanese pharmaceutical company, we’re bringing together Cancer Research UK’s world-leading target validation expertise and Astellas’ proven track record on drug development, which we hope will lead to new drugs for pancreatic cancer patients. We’re excited to commence this collaboration and look forward to furthering our relationship with Astellas in the future.”