University of Leicester researchers and GSK collaborate to discover new cancer treatments

Posted by ap507 at Jul 21, 2016 11:58 AM |
Project will help to develop novel medicines to treat aggressive forms of blood cancer

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 July 2016

A collaboration between the University of Leicester and global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been established to discover and develop novel medicines to treat aggressive forms of blood cancer.

High grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the most common forms of blood cancer, with more than 5,000 new cases reported each year in the UK. 

Professor Simon Wagner, from the Department of Cancer Studies, who is leading the project on behalf of the University of Leicester, said: “Currently these patients are treated with combination chemotherapy, but the 5-year survival rate of between 50 and 60 per cent shows that there is a long way to go before we can adequately manage these diseases. Amongst high risk patient groups, particularly the elderly, outcomes are even worse partly because this population has a lower tolerance to the bone marrow toxicity associated with existing treatments. We see an urgent unmet need for new treatments that can attack the cancer, without causing this significant damage to the bone marrow.”

The new project is part of GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) initiative, which brings together the insight and creativity of world-leading academics with the drug discovery expertise of GSK to create new medicines and bring them to the clinic.

The aim of the new project is to discover and develop new molecules that can make a clinical impact in the treatment of patients with high grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Professor Wagner, who is also a Consultant in Haemato-Oncology at Leicester Royal Infirmary, continued: “One of the major challenges in developing drugs to treat these diseases is the complexity of the protein targets, which makes it difficult to predict the way that potential drug molecules may act against the cancer cells. For some years now, I have been working with Professor John Schwabe at the Leicester Institute for Structural & Chemical Biology to understand the proteins that drive this disease. We are now able to interrogate these proteins at a molecular level and it is these new insights that will enable us to tackle the problem from a fresh angle.”

The new collaboration builds upon a previous GSK Discovery Fast Track Challenge project, which was awarded to Professor Wagner in December 2014 and was amongst the first projects of its type to launch in Europe.

Professor Andrew Tobin from the University of Leicester Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Director of the Leicester Drug Discovery and Diagnostics Centre which has supported the work to date said: “The continued recognition and new investment from GSK illustrates the strength of the drug discovery team at Leicester. By bringing together our cancer and structural biology specialists with the scale and experience of GSK we have been able to launch a full scale drug discovery programme from the University of Leicester aimed at delivering new treatments for a devastating cancer.”

Under the terms of the new agreement, the University will receive success-based financial support from GSK upon the achievement of key milestones, as well as an upfront payment and royalties on sales from any product that is successfully commercialised out of the collaboration.

Dr James Lapworth, from the University’s Commercialisation Office, said: “We are delighted to be making this announcement today. The new collaboration with GSK is a great opportunity to match Leicester’s clinical and academic strengths in oncology with one of the biggest drug discovery capabilities in the world. We are all anxious to see the results of this work, in the hope that we can bring forward promising new drugs to treat these aggressive diseases.”

Dr Duncan Holmes, European Head of Discovery Partnerships with Academia at GSK said: “The DPAc approach allows everyone to play to their strengths.  We are excited to be working in such an integrated collaborative way with Professor Wagner and the team at Leicester, combining his biological and oncology clinical insight with GSK’s discovery and development expertise.”



For more information contact Dr Ruth Barber at the University of Leicester on

Professor Wagner qualified in medicine at St. George’s Hospital, London. He trained in Haematology at St.

Bartholomew’s Hospital and the Hammersmith Hospital. His research career started when he was awarded an MRC Training Fellowship, which allowed him to work at the Hammersmith Hospital on leukaemia and obtain a PhD. He followed this with further stints of bench work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the Wellcome Trust Immunology Unit, the latter supported by a Royal Society Fellowship, and both being held in the University of Cambridge. For the past 14 years he has been able to combine clinical work, seeing patients with lymphoma, with running a research laboratory firstly at Imperial College London and since 2008 at the University of Leicester.

Professor Schwabe received a degree in Biochemistry at University College Oxford and a PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. After 3 years at the Salk Institute in the USA, he returned to the UK, first to Cambridge and since 2006 at the University of Leicester. Professor Schwabe is a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator and a Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award Holder. He uses structural biology to understand proteins and proteins complexes that regulated gene expression.

“Leicester Drug Discovery and Diagnostics Centre (LD3) works with academics and clinicians from the University of Leicester to initiate and sustain drug and diagnostic discovery programmes arising from world class fundamental research at the University. The Centre forms a core facility within the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology and both the Leicester Precision Medicine Institute and Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology. LD3 also works closely with Clinical Academics from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust enabling access to patients and patient samples. The Trust hosts three NIHR Biomedical Research Units in i) Cardiovascular, ii) Respiratory; and iii) Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity. Our spectrum of clinical research activity also includes an Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, CRUK Cancer Research Centre, a wide portfolio of clinical trials and an accredited Clinical Trials Unit.

Launched in the UK in late 2010, DPAc is a new approach to drug discovery that enables academics to marry their scientific excellence with the drug discovery insight of GSK. GSK and the academic collaborator share the challenges and rewards of innovation; GSK provides drug discovery expertise and in-kind resources as well as funding activities in the academic laboratories to progress a programme from idea to candidate medicine.

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