A new treatment for pancreatic cancer

Our Therapy Accelerator is driving a research collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the University of Hertfordshire to prevent the spread of a lethal form of pancreatic cancer.

Partner: University of Cambridge

Research challenge

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the most common and lethal form of pancreatic cancer. The disease is typically diagnosed at a late stage and is very aggressive; only one in five patients survive beyond a year. There is an urgent need for new drug therapies that could either effect a cure or significantly extend life for those with PDAC.

The protein S100P, which is produced in large amounts by PDAC tumours, has been identified as a potential target for slowing the spread of pancreatic cancer. Funded by Worldwide Cancer Research, University of Hertfordshire researchers have developed computational models of the S100P protein to design chemical compounds that can bind to the protein and inhibit its function in pancreatic cancer cells, reducing their ability to invade other tissues. This is the first step towards developing a potential clinical drug candidate.

Benefits of collaboration

University of Hertfordshire researchers, led by Dr Sharon Rossiter and Dr Stewart Kirton, have screened multiple synthetic compounds for their ability to prevent the activation of S100P. From that work, they have identified a set of candidate drugs that prevented the cancer cells from spreading. There is now a need for direct evidence of exactly how these compounds are binding to the S100P protein, and how they stop it functioning.

A leading biochemistry group at the University of Cambridge saw an opportunity to work with University of Hertfordshire to advance this research discovery by applying its own expertise in inhibition of protein-protein interactions with small molecules and structure-guided drug discovery. The group, headed by Dr Marko Hyvönen, submitted a successful bid to the Therapy Accelerator. The new partnership will allow researchers to make rapid progress in designing and screening more potent drugs, generating the evidence required to attract translational funding and commercial partners.

“Without this collaboration, it would not be possible to validate S100P as a suitable drug target and take the next step towards commercial partnership and the clinic.”

– Dr Marko Hyvönen, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge

Potential impact

The principal aim of this collaborative research initiative is to develop compounds that can be used clinically to slow the spread of pancreatic cancer and significantly extend life in patients with advanced forms of the disease. There is also evidence that the protein S100P is involved in early disease development, so these compounds may be useful for preventing progression or recurrence after surgery in patients whose disease is less advanced.

The S100P protein is found in several other cancers, including forms of lung, colon and breast cancer. There is the potential for S100P inhibitors to have wider application as a chemotherapy treatment to halt the progression of these cancers.

Research-active SMEs or academic institutions interested in discussing collaborative research and innovation opportunities in life sciences should contact be@herts.ac.uk or call +44 (0) 1707 286406.