Cancer Research UK and the Cancer Research Technology Pioneer Fund (CPF) are committing £2.5 million in collaboration with the US’ National Cancer Institute (NCI) to tackle RAS, one of the most common driving mutations in aggressive, hard to treat cancers.

The overarching aim of the alliance is to develop and test promising new molecules for targeting RAS, which have eluded scientists for decades because the faulty protein lacks an obvious site on its surface for potential drug molecules to fit into and inhibit its signalling.

Researchers at the NCI in Maryland, USA, will work with the Drug Discovery Unit at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, Scotland, to develop gold standard tests to analyse novel RAS inhibitors.

The CRT Pioneer Fund, which is dedicated to investment in oncology development programmes in Europe and is managed by Sixth Element Capital, will be responsible for the commercial exploitation of any compounds arising from the collaboration.

“Our team is determined to challenge the dogma that RAS is ‘undruggable.’ This collaboration is our biggest yet and will double our resource targeting RAS. We are excited to be joining forces with the NCI in their pioneering RAS Initiative,” noted Dr Martin Drysdale, head of the Drug Discovery Unit at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute.

The collaboration links up with the NCI’s RAS Initiative, which brings scientists together from around the globe to work on developing drugs targeting the faulty protein.

“We’re making progress in our understanding of how RAS proteins function at the molecular level and how they form signalling complexes in membranes. New technologies and tools mean we can now analyse these proteins in ways that were not possible a few years ago, and can now test new ways of blocking RAS function,” said Dr Frank McCormick, who directs the research efforts of the RAS Initiative at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, sponsored by the NCI.

“This international collaboration and investment could herald a new era in targeting RAS,” added Dr Iain Foulkes, chief executive of Cancer Research Technology and executive director of research and innovation at CR UK. “We hope to develop these small molecules to pave the way for potential drugs in the future. Our aim is to work alongside industry to ensure any progress makes its way into clinical trials.”