Babraham scientists establish cancer-focussed Knowledge Exchange collaboration with AstraZeneca

Babraham scientists establish cancer-focussed Knowledge Exchange collaboration with AstraZeneca

The Babraham Institute is one of three world-leading biomedical research institutions in Cambridge that has today entered into a strategic alliance with AstraZeneca, to advance cancer research and develop and evaluate new therapeutic strategies to tackle prostate and pancreatic cancers. Other projects between the partners will study cancer tumour mutations and aim to better understand how the genetic makeup of an individual patient’s cancer determines their response to treatment.

This represents a significant alliance between scientists from AstraZeneca’s small molecule and MedImmune’s biologics units and members of the Cambridge Cancer Centre, which brings together researchers across the region from the University, affiliated Institutes and the NHS.

Pancreatic cancer, the fifth most common cause of cancer death in the UK, has an extremely poor prognosis and few treatments are currently available; in 2005-2009 3.7% of adult pancreatic cancer patients survived their cancer for five years or more. With mortality rates for pancreatic cancer (7,901 deaths in 2010 in the UK) closely mirroring the number of new diagnoses each year (8,463 cases in 2010) developing methods for earlier detection and new therapeutic strategies are crucial if survival rates, which have changed little in the last forty years, are to improve.

Babraham scientists, together with Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, the Cambridge University Department of Oncology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will be evaluating new therapeutic approaches for pancreatic cancer patients. It is hoped that this two year collaboration on pre-clinical and clinical oncology projects between researchers and clinicians, will identify the best drug combination partners for AstraZeneca’s investigational compound selumetinib in pre-clinical models.

Selumetinib, a molecule known as a MEK inhibitor, halts the activity of a particular biochemical signalling pathways within cells that are often overactive in certain cancers. It has been shown in Phase I/II studies to be clinically active and is tolerated, as both monotherapy and in combination with other chemotherapy regimens, in clinical studies across a range of solid tumours.

MEK proteins, the target of these inhibitory drugs, are part of the mitogen-activated protein kinasesignalling pathway, a key intracellular signalling cascade involved in the control of cell division. Dr Simon Cook, a Group Leader and leader of Knowledge Exchange & Commercialisation Strategy at the Babraham Institute, is investigating how these signalling pathways control normal cell division, responses to cell stress and how this impacts cellular lifespan.

“In addition to their normal function, these signalling pathways are frequently de-regulated in certain age-related diseases, notably in cancer,” he explained. “Through collaborations with charities and pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca we are studying their role in human tumour cells and gaining new insights which we hope will help to develop more selective and effective treatment strategies.“

Susan Galbraith, Head of AstraZeneca’s Oncology Innovative Medicines Unit said, “These are the first research collaborations AstraZeneca has signed with Cambridge-based partners since announcing our intention to build a world-class research and development centre on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. It is fitting that the focus of these collaborations is on delivering new medicines for cancer because our Cambridge facility will represent AstraZeneca’s largest centre for oncology research. We look forward to having our scientists work side-by-side with some of the UK’s most distinguished medical institutions.

“All three of the collaborations we are announcing today advance our work in the area of personalised healthcare, helping us to understand and address the underlying mechanisms of disease so that we can find the right medicines for the right patients.”

David Neal, Group Leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Honorary consultant Urological Surgeon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital said,“I am delighted about this partnership on the Biomedical Campus between AstraZeneca, the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and the Cambridge University Department of Oncology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.  It is a wonderful example of how collaboration between world-class Pharma and cutting edge science will lead to benefits for patients through better understanding individual variation in cancer behaviour.”

The Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is a world-leading centre for studying the basic biology of signalling processes inside and between cells, supporting BBSRC’s mission to drive advances in fundamental bioscience for better health and improved quality of life.

Dr Claire Cockcroft, Babraham’s Knowledge Exchange Manager said, “Collaborative partnerships between world-leading research organisations, industry, clinicians and NHS centres will play an increasingly critical role driving the development of novel therapies and evaluating drug targets to address unmet healthcare challenges and improve patient wellbeing. Working together to increase understanding of the basic biology underpinning mechanisms of drug action and how patients respond to treatments will bring a more personalised approach to healthcare, where genome-based information will enable patients to be matched to the most appropriate treatments.”  

Contact details:
The Knowledge Exchange Office
Tel:       +44 (0)1223 496206

The Babraham Institute
Babraham Research Campus
Cambridge CB22 3AT
​United Kingdom
Notes to Editors:
About the Babraham Institute:
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, health and well-being and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

Media Enquiries for AZ Ayesha Bharmal +44 20 7604 8034 (UK/Global) Esra Erkal-Paler +44 20 7604 8030 (UK/Global) Laura Woodin +1 (302) 885 1087 (US)  
AstraZeneca is a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, inflammation, autoimmune, oncology, infection and neuroscience diseases. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. For more information please visit:

The Cambridge Cancer Centre is made up of partner institutions including the University of Cambridge, the Hutchison MRC Research Centre, Cancer Research UK and the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  Within the Centre, there are approximately 140 senior research investigators in addition to the NHS consultants and health care professionals who treat patients. The mission of the Cambridge Cancer Centre is to provide ground breaking basic science in cancer, high quality translational research to benefit patients and to integrate this with the highest quality cancer service for prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research. The charity’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated. Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years. The organisation supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses. Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit

The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute is a major research centre which aims to take the scientific strengths of Cambridge to practical application for the benefit of cancer patients. The Institute is a unique partnership between the University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK. It is housed in the Li Ka Shing Centre, a state-of-the-art research facility located on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus which was generously funded by Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, Cambridge University, Cancer Research UK, The Atlantic Philanthropies and a range of other donors.  For more information visit

About the University of Cambridge Department of Oncology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital The University Department of Oncology is part of the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cambridge and is based within 6 locations on or close to the Addenbrooke’s Hospital site. It is a large department, with both University and NHS components, where clinical and basic science converges to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to cancer related research. Its main focus of research is the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of cancer. It aims to deliver the best possible care to patients,build a world renowned environment for laboratory and clinical research and provide an education programme that generates world class oncology clinicians and research scientists.

About Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) CUH is one of the largest and best-known hospitals in the country. As well as delivering care through Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie, it is also:

  • a leading national centre for specialist treatment for rare or complex conditions
  • a government-designated biomedical research centre
  • one of only five academic health science centres in the UK
  • a university teaching hospital with a worldwide reputation
  • a partner in the development of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus
  • CUH’s vision is to be the best academic healthcare organisation in the world.