Yale School of Medicine and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AZ) have embarked on a new collaboration, supported by AZ’s Oncology Global Medical Affairs group, that aims to speed translational and clinical research to develop lifesaving, next-generation therapies for lung and other cancers.

The collaboration will also enable studies aimed at acquiring a deeper understanding of underlying mechanisms such as disruptions in DNA repair pathways and the role of immune microenvironment, which predispose cells to cancer and also promote its growth.

“It’s an exciting time to work in cancer research,” says Roy S. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine and professor of pharmacology, associate director for translational research at Yale Cancer Center (YCC), and chief of medical oncology at YCC and Smilow Cancer Hospital. “But to continue making progress we need new drugs,” he says.

“This collaboration will allow us to take drugs from the lab to the clinic and then back to the lab. In providing access to new compounds, the collaboration enables Yale to fully leverage its National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) grant in lung cancer for preclinical studies and future clinical trials.”

“AstraZeneca’s strong team and ours are very complementary,” notes Patricia M. LoRusso, D.O., professor of medicine and associate director of innovative medicine at Yale Cancer Center. “Our objectives are the same: to find new indications for currently available drugs and to better understand mechanisms of response and resistance, potentially leading to novel drug candidates.”

“AZ Oncology is delighted to be continuing our long-standing history of collaboration with Yale. Together we can make faster progress in understanding the mechanisms by which the drugs in our pipeline affect cancer,” says Susan Galbraith, senior vice president and head of oncology for AZ’s Innovative Medicines and Early Development (IMED) Biotech Unit.

The collaboration will draw on Yale’s strong translational program and the resources of YCC and Smilow, with a focus in lung cancer. “With AZ’s strong focus on science and ambition of turning cancer into a chronic disease, this strategic alliance provides a perfect fit for AZ as we seek to deepen our understanding of how cancer biology impacts response and resistance to treatments such as osimertinib, and how this insight can find new treatment options that will extend patients’ lives,” says Darren Cross, Ph.D., global medical affairs leader at AstraZeneca.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide and one of the most difficult cancers to treat, especially when it presents in an advanced metastatic stage,” says Herbst. “In the last 20 years we have seen the advent of targeted therapies and immunotherapies. Ten to 20 percent of lung cancer patients do extremely well on these drugs, but the majority do not respond or are subject to drug resistance. We need to better understand why this happens.”

Launched in May at a meeting with AstraZeneca scientists at Cambridge in the United Kingdom, the collaboration is overseen by a joint steering committee co-chaired by Herbst and LoRusso at Yale. From AstraZeneca, Cross and colleague Simon Collett will play instrumental roles in guiding collaboration activities. “The committee-based approach will allow us to focus on important issues and understand each other’s needs and strengths,” says LoRusso, a leading expert in drug development.

Before joining the Yale faculty, LoRusso and Herbst were among the first to study gefitinib (ZD 1839), an AstraZeneca drug, as a treatment for lung cancer. “We’ve worked together and with AstraZeneca for many years,” says LoRusso. “This collaboration is founded on our prior relationship as well as our current science, and builds on the 20-year history of scientific collaboration that Roy and I share.”

“We are thrilled to bring together the innovative basic, translational, and clinical science at Yale with the high-impact portfolio of novel therapeutics in development at AstraZeneca,” says Charles S. Fuchs, M.D., M.P.H., Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professor of Medicine and director of Yale Cancer Center. “This collaboration is well positioned to not only provide transformative insight in cancer biology, but also advance the next generation of breakthroughs in patient care. We look forward to great progress over the next few years.”