Cancer Research UK has launched a new multi-site trial of an early-stage experimental therapy owned by Eli Lilly assessing its potential in a range of advanced cancers.

The UK study will test the safety and tolerability of the drug - currently called LY3143921 hydrate - and establish recommended dosing for patients with cancers including advanced bowel, lung, ovarian, urothelial, pancreatic, breast, head and neck, and oesophageal cancer.

LY3143921 hydrate has not yet been tested in humans but, according to CR UK, has shown promise in mice by selectively inhibiting Cdc7, a protein that helps cells to reproduce correctly and on which cancer cells are particularly dependent.

Researchers also believe that cancers with a certain fault in their p53 gene could be particularly sensitive to inhibition of Cdc7. As such, the study will focus on metastatic bowel cancer, squamous non-small cell lung cancer and high grade serous ovarian cancer, all of which have high levels of p53 mutation and functional loss.

Other tumours with reported higher levels of p53 loss or mutation, including squamous carcinoma of the oesophagus, squamous carcinoma of the head and neck (Human Papilloma Virus negative), urothelial cancer, triple negative breast cancer and pancreatic cancer, are also to be included.

“We hope that this new cancer drug might - in the future - provide patients who have tried all available treatment options another opportunity to stop their cancer cells from multiplying and control their disease,” said Professor Richard Wilson, CR UK-funded clinical researcher and chief investigator at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre.

“It’s very early days, but this trial will help us to understand whether this drug could help cancer patients and whether it has the potential to stop the growth of many different cancer types, particularly those with loss of p53 function.”

The drug was brought to CR UK through its Clinical Development Partnership scheme, a joint initiative between the charity’s Centre for Drug Development and Cancer Research Technology that aims to develop promising anti-cancer agents from companies not able to take them through early phase clinical trials themselves.

Under the scheme, CR UK sponsors and funds early clinical development, while companies retain all underlying rights to their programmes. Companies can then decide if they wish to further develop the drug based on the data and, if not, rights are handed to CRT to secure an alternative partner to do so.