GlaxoSmithKline, Cancer Research Technology and Manchester University have formed an alliance that seeks to tap into the potential of epigenetics to generate new cancer drugs.

Researchers believe that epigenetic alterations - i.e. molecular modifications affecting gene activity - hold as much importance as genetic mutations in a cell’s transformation to cancer, and that understanding the related mechanisms could eventually have a significant impact on cancer prevention, detection and therapy.

Under the deal, scientists in the Drug Discovery Unit at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, at the University of Manchester, aim to create potential novel drugs targeting a key protein involved in epigenetic regulation. 

"Directly targeting [epigenetic] mechanisms using our drug discovery platform will provide exciting new opportunities in treating the disease," said Donald Ogilvie, head of the Drug Discovery Unit. 

Under the financials details revealed, GSK will provide "starting materials" for the project, bagging in return exclusive option rights to molecules discovered under the collaboration. 

CRT stands to receive development milestone payments as any candidates advance, as well as royalty payments on future product sales, and has the right to develop any molecules that GSK isn't interested in taking further.

Commenting on the partnership, Phil L’Huillier, CRT's director of business development, said it "shows that by combining the experience and skills from industry and academia it is possible to develop projects that may otherwise have taken years to implement - speeding up the development of potential new treatments for cancer".  

The field certainly seems to have piqued GSK's interest - the group entered into a collaboration with the USA’s SuperGen to discover and develop cancer therapeutics based on epigenetic targets back in 2009.