AstraZeneca is doubling its investment in a partnership programme with Cancer Research UK to develop and validate proof-of-concept biomarkers for use in clinical trials.

The company’s exact financial contribution remains undisclosed but Cancer Research UK has committed to processing up to 30,000 biomarker assays per annum over the next three years under the programme, compared with its current tally of 14,000 assays per year.

The partners will also create additional Clinical Pharmacology Fellowship awards and a new Radiation Fellowship post under the agreement. To date, a total of six Clinical Pharmacology Fellowships have been backed by the Cancer Research UK/AstraZeneca Clinical Pharmacology Programme since its launch.

These scientists will support the existing research programme and explore further the use of biomarkers in radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy clinical trials. The biomarkers studied under the collaboration help to determine whether new AstraZeneca compounds can destroy tumour cells and/or prevent angiogenesis.

Cancer Research UK’s development and commercialisation arm, Cancer Research Technology, first hooked up with AstraZeneca and CRUK’s Paterson Institute for Cancer Research (PICR) at the University of Manchester to study biomarkers in November 2006.

The partnership reinforced existing collaborative links with the PICR by setting up two clinical pharmacology research fellowships, jointly funded by Cancer Research UK and AstraZeneca, and geared to identifying and validating circulating biomarkers for use in conjunction with targeted cancer therapies.

“Most people in the cancer field have bought into the notion that biomarker research is key to the successful development of new treatments, but very few have really followed through with the thorough investigations and investment necessary for biomarkers to pay off,” commented Professor Caroline Dive, clinical and experimental pharmacology group leader at the Paterson Institute.

Professor Dive, who also heads up the AstraZeneca-Cancer Research UK collaboration, presented new biomarker data at the National Cancer Research Institute’s Cancer Conference in Birmingham, UK yesterday showing that circulating tumour cells can be used to measure the effects of drugs currently used to treat lung cancer.