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AZ signs biomarker research deal

Published on 05/10/09 at 11:38am

A deal between AstraZeneca and Cancer Research UK is set to expand biomarker research into how new drugs behave in early stage clinical trials.

Its programme will process up to 30,000 biomarker assays a year over the next three years - up from 14,000 a year at the moment.

The biomarkers will help determine whether new AstraZeneca drugs kill tumour cells and are able to prevent angiogenesis.

The work is led by Professor Caroline Dive from the charity's Paterson Institute at the University of Manchester.

Today she will present findings from the research so far at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Birmingham.

These will include data revealing that circulating tumour cells (CTCs) can be used to measure the effects of drugs currently used to treat lung cancer.

Measuring CTCs in blood samples from lung cancer patients showed their frequency was higher among the patients whose cancer had spread.

CTC numbers fell after chemotherapy, which suggests they could be used as a biomarker in trials to help treat this type of cancer more effectively.

Professor Dive said that while there is agreement over the importance of biomarker research in developing treatments, too little has been done about it.

"This deal will enable us to advance our understanding of how biomarker research contributes to drug development and patient care whilst building on the know-how we have gained so far," she added.

Biomarkers can be used to monitor how a disease is developing or if a drug is working and to help separate patients by tumour type into groups most likely to respond to a treatment.

And since they are usually taken from blood or urine, biomarkers help reduce invasive procedures such as biopsies - particularly important for cancer patients.

The AstraZeneca work is facilitated by Cancer Research Technology (CRT), the charity's development and commercialisation arm.

It looks at the development of 'proof of concept' biomarkers, which indicate if a drug will have the desired effect.

This should enable doctors to work out the correct dose and schedule while establishing the parameters to measure effectiveness.

AstraZeneca has been a high profile investor in cancer charity research. Most recently the manufacturer announced in June it was putting more than £4 million into an oncology research project with CRT and the Institute of Cancer Research.

That programme targets molecular 'chaperones', whose primary purpose is to ensure that newly-made proteins function correctly.

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