GlaxoSmithKline is bringing on board the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Centre to work on a programme aimed at eradicating cancer stem cells to treat leukaemia and other diseases.

The bench-to-bedside project is part of GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia programme, where academic partners become core members of drug-discovery teams to expedite promising basic research into drug discovery and development.

The team will work on the discovery and development of a new therapeutic compound that inhibits RNA editing, a process cells use to enhance RNA diversity prior to translating genetic information into proteins. 

Research carried out by scientists at UC San Diego has shown that uncontrolled RNA editing helps cancer stem cells self-renew and produce more malignant cells in chronic myeloid leukaemia and other blood cancers. These stem cells can also lie dormant for many years before becoming reactivated to cause disease relapse.

“The problem with leukaemia is that in many cases while we can control the symptoms of disease, we can’t completely eradicate it because current therapies don’t block cancer stem cell self-renewal,” said Catriona Jamieson, associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Regenerative Medicine, who will lead UC San Diego’s part in the team. “Enhanced RNA editing is like a cancer stem cell engine, and with this collaboration we want to turn that engine off”.

“This is a wonderful example of academia-industry collaboration to accelerate drug development and clinical impact,” said Moores’ director Scott Lippman, “and opens the door for cancer stem cell targeting from a completely new angle — inhibition of aberrant RNA editing.”