Cancer Research UK has linked up with Astellas Pharma to find new drug targets for pancreatic cancer.

The two-year collaboration is based on research which suggests that certain pancreatic cancers are dependent on autophagy, the process of consuming a person’s own cellular parts for energy, in order to grow. The first stage of the pact aims to identify and then validate the best possible drug targets to block the autophagy pathway in pancreatic cancer cells.

Astellas has an exclusive licence to progress the most promising candidates and will pay undisclosed milestone and royalty payments to Cancer Research UK’s commercial arm, Cancer Research Technology.

Kenji Yasukawa, chief strategy officer at Astellas, said that since May 2013, the company has been looking to establish links with overseas researchers “who have ideas that possess a high level of novelty and creativity”. The collaboration is the first of its kind between CRT and a Japanese pharmaceutical company.

Every year 8,800 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK but survival rates remain very low, with only 3% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer surviving their disease for five years or more after diagnosis.