The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, Texas), one of the original three comprehensive cancer centers in the United States established by the National Cancer Act of 1971, and UK-based AstraZeneca have agreed on a multiyear strategic research collaboration to conduct multiple, parallel clinical and clinically related studies in ovarian and other gynecologic cancers with the aim of improving patient outcomes.

The unique agreement represents a novel approach to research by focusing not just on clinical trials using investigational therapies but also on epidemiological and outcomes studies. AstraZeneca and MD Anderson aim to rethink how industry and academia can collaborate in deeper and broader ways to help expedite the development of treatments for women with high unmet medical needs.

Redefining the Cancer Treatment Paradigm
The data collected from these studies is anticipated to inform the development and utility of existing and future therapies. MD Anderson scientists will have access to therapeutic agents in the AstraZeneca pipeline and future studies will be determined by the collaboration at a later date.


“AstraZeneca is committed to helping redefine the cancer treatment paradigm, beginning with our powerful clinical development program for ovarian cancer,” said Greg Keenan, chief medical officer U.S., AstraZeneca. “Working to fully realize the potential of novel targeted therapies and immunotherapies, as well as novel combinations to drive improved outcomes, engages us in true partnerships to better understand the science. The collaboration with MD Anderson is ideal as it maximizes both our ability to explore these combinations through AstraZeneca’s robust pipeline while providing us with unique insights and data.”

Moon Shots Program
The collaboration will draw on the expertise of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, which aims to accelerate the conversion of scientific discoveries into clinical advances and significantly reduce cancer deaths. The effort also leverages resources such as MD Anderson’s Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy (IPCT), which was created to support preclinical research and ongoing clinical trials in which a patient’s tumor biopsy is assayed for abnormal genes and gene products to select therapy with therapeutic agents targeting the product of those particular abnormal genes. Such an integrated research and clinical trials program, when leads to a real personalized cancer therapy and improved patient outcomes.  The collaboration als includes novel agents beng developed by AstraZeneca.

Instrumental in the Moon Shot Program, launched in fall 2012 to accelerate the conversion of scientific discoveries into clinical advances and significantly reduce cancer deaths, are clinical trials, advanced molecular analysis to guide treatment and screening and a focused program to gather, store, access and apply massive amounts of information to help patients and learn along the way also are unfolding. Commenting on this approach, MD Anderson President Ron DePinho, MD, noted late last year: “Our Moon Shots Program presses on to save more lives more quickly by cultivating powerful, efficient connections between vast new scientific knowledge and our efforts to improve patient care, protect those at risk and prevent cancer outright.”

“Moon shots gather MD Anderson’s multidimensional expertise and tap remarkable new technologies to better deploy what we already know about cancer against these diseases and to contribute creative new answers to crucial challenges,” DePinho said.

Photo: Gordon Mills, MD, PhD; Chair of Systems Biology, Division of Cancer Medicine.Photo courtesy: MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Unmet needs
While there are a great number of successes in the war of cancer, there are still a large number of unmet needs. Ovarian and other gynecological cancers are among these.

“Ovarian and other gynecologic cancers remain areas of high unmet need,” said Gordon Mills, MD, PhD., chair of Systems Biology, Division of Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson. Mills is co-leader of MD Anderson’s Breast and Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot and co-director of the IPCT.

In 2014, in the United States, there were 21,980 new cases of ovarian cancer. A total of  14,270 women died of the disease.  In the pas 30 years, there has been no appreciable improvement in survival for women with ovarian cancer. Furthermore, the survival of ovarian cancer is relatively poor: more than 70% of cases are diagnosed at late stages, reducing long term survival. Data from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER Data Base based on patients diagnosed from 2004 to 2010 shows a relative 5-year survival rate of patients with invasive epithelial ovarian cancer is less than 17%.  The SEER data also shows that approximately 1.3% of women will be diagnosed with ovary cancer at some point during their lifetime, confirming the high unmet need.

“Collaborations that examine new agents and explore disease epidemiology and outcomes have the potential to inform the development of novel and combination treatments, and MD Anderson has the ability and expertise required to provide data-rich, rapid trials to inform this combination strategy,” Mills explained.

Growth Platform
Oncology is a core growth platform for AstraZeneca, and the company is aiming to bring six new cancer medicines to patients by 2020. AstraZeneca’s broad pipeline of oncology medicines is focused on four main disease areas – breast, ovarian, lung and hematological cancers. These are being targeted through four key platforms – immunotherapy, the genetic drivers of cancer and resistance, DNA damage repair and antibody-drug conjugates or ADCs.