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Molecular cancer therapy

15 July 2009

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A major new collaboration involving Cardiff University will advance research into potential treatments for cancer by examining the very early molecular stages involved in the disease.

Spanning three years, the cross-disciplinary, multi-centre effort will focus on inhibitors of the WNT pathway. This pathway is a network of proteins that are involved in the physiological tissue development in embryos, as well as in tissue maintenance in adults.

Mutations in this pathway alter the way in which it is regulated, leaving it permanently activated. Such continuous activation can result in the development of cancer. Deregulation of the pathway is known to be linked to bowel, skin, breast and other cancers.

The aim of the collaboration is to identify and develop small molecule inhibitors of the WNT pathway that could eventually become novel treatments for cancer patients.

Cardiff’s involvement in the research will be led by Professor Trevor Dale of the School of Biosciences. Professor Dale said: "Normal cells communicate with each other by exchanging WNT protein signals. A WNT signal will instruct a cell to grow, divide and behave like a stem cell. Cancer mutations break the molecular switches that connect WNT proteins to cell growth. This in effect leaves the pathway permanently switched on. This collaboration will allow us to convert these biological insights into therapies which one day may help us treat cancer patients."

Alongside the University, other partners are Cancer Research Technology, Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Cancer Research UK and the Institute of Cancer Research.

Julian Blagg the lead scientist at the Institute of Cancer Research continued: "We hope this collaboration will enable us to harness the enormous potential in WNT pathway therapy which we believe will be a significant step on from previous target driven approaches. This collaboration will combine our academic expertise in medical chemistry with Merck Serono’s specialist knowledge of developing pharmaceutical products for the market. The input from the molecular chemistry group at Cardiff will hopefully enable us to make real progress in targeting this area."

"Phil L’Huillier, Cancer Research Technology’s director of business management said: "Today’s deal represents a significant endorsement for and investment in the development of early scientific research. It is testament to the promise of the lab-based research that we are now in a position to take it forward with such a large-scale project and begin to think about new treatments for cancer patients. We hope by pooling expertise we will be able to progress these in the fastest possible time."

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