Cancer Research Technology and Cancer Research UK establish lipid metabolism research team

Cancer Research Technology (CRT)

Cancer Research Technology, Cancer Research UK’s commercial arm, has established a group of scientists with expertise in lipid metabolism – getting energy from fats and making building blocks for cell growth – to develop targets for potential new cancer drugs.

Five world-class research groups will collaborate on an initial two-year research project. They will study dependency of cancer cells on enzymes involved in lipid metabolism to develop future drug discovery and development programmes. The groups will receive a total of £600,000 over two years, jointly funded by Cancer Research UK and AstraZeneca.

The groups are led by: Professor Eyal Gottlieb at Cancer Research UK’s Beatson Institute; Dr Almut Schulze at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute; Professor Adrian Harris at The University of Oxford; Professor Eric Aboagye at Imperial College London and Professor Michael Wakelam at The Babraham Institute.

An increase in lipid production is an important characteristic of cancer. A cell must replicate its DNA and double in size in order to divide. And rapidly-dividing cells require large amounts of construction materials – fats, proteins and nucleic acids – as well as having huge energy demands.

But tumour cells, which have poorly-developed blood vessels, only receive a restricted supply of the nutrients they need. So, to meet the demand for energy and construction materials, cancer cells have developed a remarkably different way of generating energy compared with healthy cells.

The research groups will prove the importance of lipidomic enzymes – proteins which generate fats – as new therapeutic targets. They will use genetic approaches to block the unique metabolism fuelling the uncontrolled growth and spread of cancer cells.

Dr Keith Blundy, chief executive of CRT, said: “Drugs that can selectively target metabolism are likely to delay, if not stop disease spread.
“This specialist consortium of hand-picked experts will use the latest imaging and analytical techniques to develop ways to block the unique lipid metabolism found in cancer cells. We hope the discoveries from this work will contribute to the development of drugs to increase survival from cancer.”

Professor Eyal Gottlieb, head of apoptosis and tumour metabolism at Cancer Research UK’s Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, said: “The role of metabolism in driving the growth, division and spread of cancer cells can’t be overstated.

“Cancer cells have developed different routes to generate energy and increase their size. But, the detail of this isn’t yet well understood. It’s incredibly exciting to be working alongside other experts in this important field to decipher the unusual ways tumours produce their power supply – and add pace to the development of future drugs to block these processes.”
AstraZeneca will partner with the collaboration to commercialise discoveries through its existing three-year Tumour Metabolism Alliance with CRT.

Susan Galbraith, vice president and head of oncology innovative medicines at AstraZeneca, said: “The collaboration with Cancer Research UK and CRT represents an exciting opportunity for AstraZeneca to work with some of the leading UK scientists in cancer lipid metabolism. Importantly, the collaboration builds on the effective partnership already in place between AstraZeneca and CRT aimed at developing novel therapies that exploit cancer metabolism.

“We are very pleased to now extend this relationship with the anticipation of validating novel cancer targets.”

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Our research, funded entirely by the generosity of the public, has contributed to the progress that’s seeing survival rates from cancer continuing to increase. But there’s more to be done. Cancer still causes one in four deaths each year and we urgently need to find new effective treatments.

“This incredibly important collaboration of world-class scientists which unites our expertise with support from industry partners will unravel the mystery of how cancer cells meet their huge energy demands. This knowledge will pave the way for scientists to develop more treatments to help more people beat cancer.”

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

Using functional RNAi knockdown, analytical chemistry, (metabolomics or more specifically – lipidomics), biochemistry and in vivo imaging techniques. These targets have been previously identified in the collaborators’ laboratories.

The alliance involves around 30 scientists working on projects from Cancer Research UK’s portfolio of research into cancer metabolism to develop new drugs. This is the third of CRT’s consortia, the first called Senectus Therapeutics Ltd formed in 2008 to further research into the triggers of cellular senescence – cell aging – and in 2009 CRT set up a group to research cancer stem cells.