Radiotherapy activated materials for enhanced cancer treatments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Pharmacy


Cancer remains one of the most significant causes of mortality worldwide, with 8.2 million deaths and 14.1 million new cases reported in 2012 alone (World Health Organization, 2012:, and a cost to the EU of 126 billion Euros in 2009. Chemotherapy is currently a major approach for treating cancer but a continuing concern is the inability to deliver therapeutic doses of drug directly to cancer cells without affecting normal cells. A new generation of medicines is needed to address the current shortcomings and to target complexities associated with differing cancer types, disease progression and tumour anatomies. The focus of this project is triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) which affects 12% of the 1.4 million newly-diagnosed breast cancer cases each year. There are very limited treatment options for TNBC because this form of cancer does not express any of the three biomarkers that are targeted by current therapies (including drugs such as Herceptin). For this Fellowship project we target TNBC with new chemotherapeutics which have been specifically designed to operate alongside radiotherapy, to exploit some changes in biology which occur during and after radiation damage. It is estimated that ~ 60% of cancer patients will receive radiotherapy, yet to date, chemotherapeutics have rarely been designed to recognise this clinical fact. The project will therefore explore a new and powerful means to combine radiation and chemistry to target cells which would otherwise evade therapy.

Planned Impact

Impact from the Fellowship will arise through new materials for an important unmet medical need, but also through a change in 'research culture' for the Fellowship team. We are building on some established chemistries but with some new components specifically targeted to the therapeutic regimens currently in use in the clinic. One of the main drivers for impact will be the embedding of the Fellowship within the industrial pharmaceutical development pathway, such that lab formulations designed to exploit biological mechanisms observed in the clinic are rapidly taken to go/no go decisions in the industry context. Health economics and regulatory decisions are included in the efficacy review of the new materials from the start - a significant departure from normal academic lab end-points.

Outreach and Advocacy will involve the full Fellowship team. We have experience of science outreach (YouTube, Royal College of Art, Science Festivals) and will work with oncology experts including John Saunders and Breast Cancer Now to establish appropriate outreach mechanisms for the sensitive subject of cancer.

The medical needs for breast cancer are all too apparent, with > 1.4 million new cases per year, and ~ 200,000 in the Triple negative classes. In addition to the mortality and morbidity, the affects on patients' families, there are economic losses of ~£1.5 bn due to breast cancer in the UK alone. This project is aimed to have technologies fast-tracked to new medicines via the combination of radiobiology-inspired therapies and innovative chemistry formulations.
The project may in the long term also impact on other cancers such as non-small-cell lung cancers. The difficulties of delivering drugs to these cancers by inhalation have meant that many injectable formulations for treating lung cancers are being developed. These include Abraxane and BIND-014 (both in Phase II trials). However, neither Abraxane or BIND-014 have drug release mechanisms which take account of the changd biology of radiation treated cells. As with TNBC, there is a compelling case for new formulations of drugs which could be activated in radiation-treated cells.

Impact also lies in encouraging and retaining key skills and investment opportunities in the UK. Government figures show that the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sectors alone made up 1.9% of gross value added to the UK economy in 2011 (total value of chemicals and pharma ~ £27bn). This project will contribute to the increasing need for Advanced Materials in Healthcare Technologies: as noted in the recent EPSRC Materials Review "UK businesses that produce and process materials have a turnover of around £170bn pa, represent 15% of the country's GDP and have exports valued at ~£50bn. A real opportunity exists for the UK in developing materials designed for targeted applications, reducing lead times from discovery to market and focusing on sustainability." Pharmaceutical products are a vital part of any materials strategy, and the polymer-based implant cancer drug, Zoladex, is a key indicator of the need for continuing investment in biomedical materials. AstraZeneca have invested £120 million in a new facility at Macclesfield, UK plant to meet continuing global demand for Zoladex, which is one of the world's leading therapies for prostate cancer and is also indicated for breast cancer. It is currently AstraZeneca's fifth largest selling drug with annual sales of ~ $1 billion.
The Fellowship is informed throughout by a strong link to AstraZeneca, who will provide expertise and guidance on how to take a lab-based formulation towards a marketable and manufacturable product. The costs of a potential new breast cancer formulation will thus be evaluated against the existing best practice, and the potential for meeting a currently intractable medical need.


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Description We have already discovered that some materials for carrying drugs in the body can be made in a much 'cleaner' way than before and are pursuing IP opportunities in this area. We have discussed scale up with our partners AstraZeneca and will take a decision when the final in vivo results are in. We have some very promising initial data indicating that polymer architecture can be controlled with these syntheses and that in turn this enhances anti-cancer efficacy in an orthotopic in vivo model.
Exploitation Route Although still early in the grant, we believe these materials may be useful not just for drug delivery, but also for biodegradable plastics in general. We are further considering how to develop this angle. We have new funded work with AstraZeneca in their post-doc programme due to start later in 2019
Sectors Chemicals,Construction,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description We have developed a deeper collaboration with AstraZeneca in the grant - leading to a shift in how we do the research. We have met with scale-up and development specialsts at AstraZeeca, and this has resulted in us changing the project milestones such that we work in a much more industry- and patient-focused way. We are bringing forward in vivo PK studies ahead of some of the previously planned chemistries, so that we can make stop-go decisions much earlier.We are also developing better links with Breast Cancer Now, and will be taking part in Breast Cancer Awareness week at Nottingham. We plan further links with patient groups as part of a workshop to be organised in the grant
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Chemicals,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Economic

Description Experiencing the micro-world - a cell's perspective
Amount £600,755 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R035563/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 11/2021
Description Exploitation of a novel fungicide for preventing fungal contamination and deterioration of products and materials
Amount £200,561 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/P02369X/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 07/2019
Description Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub: Advancing the manufacture and deployment of cost effective vaccines
Amount £9,947,570 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R013764/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 03/2021
Description Participation in "Wonder" - University of Nottingham public engagement festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Wonder is a large-scale event at the University of Nottingham and multiple teams display their work, primarily in research. I contributed to the Biomaterials Discovery team exhibit, which was visited by several hundred people throughout the day. Many expressed surprise that polymers were used so widely in medicine, and multiple comments indicated a change in attitude of some members of the public towards 'plastics'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017