AstraZeneca Signs Cambridge-Based Cancer Research Deals

AstraZeneca Plc is pursuing three research projects with the University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK to try to identify changes in tumor cells and test combinations of its drugs to better treat some cancer patients.

The U.K.’s second-biggest drugmaker, which is relocating to Cambridge, England, from London, will work with Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and the University of Cambridge Department of Oncology on a new technology that measures tumor DNA circulating in the blood and can identify the presence of cancer in plasma. The test can detect whether cancer is progressing and treatment is working. Doctors now use biopsies or imaging to monitor progression of the disease and whether the patient is responding to treatment.

The agreement supports Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot’s plan to use acquisitions, partnerships and the company’s own research to replace revenue lost to patent expirations. AstraZeneca can use the information to design medicines as the test can determine new genetic alterations to target, said Carl Barrett, vice president of translational science in AstraZeneca’s Oncology Innovative Medicines unit.

“This would be a more rapid way to show this drug is working or not working,” Barrett said in an interview. “The sooner we know whether a drug is working or not, the better it is for the patient.”

AstraZeneca rose 0.9 percent to 3,272.5 pence at 9:39 a.m. in London, giving it a market value of 41 billion pounds ($61.1 billion).

Prostate Cancer

The company and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute will work with Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge University Hospitals to test AstraZeneca’s experimental cancer treatment olaparib in combination with another therapy called AZD2014 to treat advanced prostate cancer patients with a poor prognosis. Olaparib, which prevents cancer cells from repairing themselves, has been shown to benefit patients with the BRCA mutations. The combination therapy may help patients without the mutation respond to the treatment.

AstraZeneca will team up with the Babraham Institute in Cambridge and its Cancer Research UK and Cambridge University partners to develop new therapies for patients with pancreatic cancer. Patients diagnosed with this type of cancer often don’t have long to live and there are few treatments available, Barrett said. The program will test the company’s experimental treatment selumetinib in combination with other therapies in laboratory models, Barrett said.

In the last year, AstraZeneca has joined up with Bind Therapeutics, Moderna Therapeutics Inc., Regulus Therapeutics Inc. and Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. It has also announced the purchases of Pearl Therapeutics Inc. and Omthera Pharmaceuticals Inc.

(Updates with share price in fifth paragraph.)
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