Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI and Almac Discovery enter research collaboration to target therapy-resistant cancer tumours

14 February 2017
Research has potential to improve 20 per cent survival rate in ovarian cancer

 

RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Almac Discovery, a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering and identifying innovative therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, have today announced a major research collaboration that aims to gain a new understanding of how to target tumour cells that are resistant to cancer therapies and cause cancer to spread to other parts of the body. The project will explore the potential of a drug, based on initial research by RCSI's Professor Tracy Robson and developed by Almac Discovery, which is currently undergoing a Phase I dose escalation trial for patients with solid tumours. It is expected that the trial will be expanded in a biomarker selected patient population within ovarian cancer, however the drug, ALM201, has the potential to treat a range of other cancers.

 
Pictured (l-r) are Professor Tracy Robson, Head of Molecular & Cellular Therapeutics, RCSI; Professor Tim Harrison, Vice President Discovery Chemistry, Almac Discovery and Dr Graham Cotton, Senior R&D Group Leader, Almac Discovery 

Ovarian cancer ranks among the top ten diagnosed and top five deadliest cancers in most countries. Unfortunately approximately 80% of patients present with advanced disease, therefore it is critical that clinicians are provided with as many treatment options as possible which can target this disease, both as a monotherapy and in combination with existing therapies.

The research team at RCSI, led by Professor Robson, Head of Molecular & Cellular Therapeutics, will investigate a certain type of cell that is present in all tumours, known as cancer stem cells. These cancer stem cells are resistant to both radiotherapy or chemotherapy and can facilitate the spread of cancer around the body. The research will focus on how a novel protein, called FKBPL, which occurs naturally in the body and has a unique ability to target cancer stem cells, can transform them into more ‘normal' tumour cells. These cells can then be more easily killed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, therefore reducing the risk of cancer reoccurrence in the patient.

Professor Robson said: "Cancer stem cells are a major barrier to successful radiotherapy and chemotherapy and can result in failure of these treatments. Our initial data demonstrates that ALM201 can transform these cells so they are no longer resistant to these therapies. This is a promising development and will complement the anti-angiogenic activity already demonstrated for this drug. This means that ALM201can block the formation of tumour blood vessels that would otherwise allow cancer to continue to grow. The funding provided by Almac will enable us to carry out further research in order to fully understand the mechanism behind its anti-cancer stem cell activity. This research is a key step on the journey to making this treatment available to patients for whom all other forms of therapy have failed."

Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI, Professor Ray Stallings, welcomed the announcement saying: "RCSI is delighted to announce this collaboration between Prof Robson and Almac. RCSI's research strategy has a strong focus on excellence in translational research for the benefit of patients and healthcare systems - this programme exemplifies how collaboration between academia and industry help achieve this objective."

Stephen Barr, President and Managing Director, Almac Discovery added: "ALM201 continues to surprise us as we uncover the complexities of its effects. The interaction of ALM201 with cancer stem cells, if proven with this research, opens up potential further treatment options for cancer patients that can be explored in the clinic."

 
Pictured (l-r) are Dr Graham Cotton, Senior R&D Group Leader, Almac Discovery; Professor Tim Harrison, Vice President Discovery Chemistry, Almac Discovery; Professor Tracy Robson, Head of Molecular & Cellular Therapeutics (MCT), RCSI; Dr Gillian Moore, Postdoctoral Researcher, MCT, RCSI; Dr Seamus Browne, Head of Industry Partnerships, RCSI; and Dr Stephanie Annett, Postdoctoral Researcher, MCT, RCSI

RCSI is ranked in the top 250 institutions worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2016-2017). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

Almac Discovery is a research driven oncology company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel and innovative approaches to the treatment of cancer. Almac Discovery focuses on the discovery to preclinical stage seeking to partner programmes at an early time point with the pharmaceutical industry. Exceptionally the company will undertake clinical development to an early stage before partnering. Almac Discovery is part of the Almac Group.