A new partnership between the Yale Cancer Center and global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca will soon have a significant impact on the center’s translational and clinical research capabilities.

The new collaboration, announced last spring allows Yale to focus on developing new therapies for lung cancer, thanks in part to the center’s Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Lung Cancer grant. Yale is one of only three institutions in the country with a National Cancer Institute-funded SPORE dedicated to lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

In addition to lung cancer research, the Yale-AstraZeneca alliance will support the center’s studies of DNA repair mechanisms, according to Yale Cancer Center Director and Smilow Cancer Hospital Physician-in-Chief Charles Fuchs. With the help of AstraZeneca’s portfolio of molecules in this research area, the center hopes to create patient-specific therapies that will target the defective DNA repair pathways that ultimately lead to genetic instability and cancer development.

“Developing alliances strengthen our capabilities of providing patients the best agents driven by the best science — and the science at Yale is some of the best science,” said Patricia LoRusso, who serves as associate director of innovative medicine at the center.

LoRusso added that research collaborations not only facilitate exchange of valuable information at both the basic science level and the clinical level, but also allow patients to benefit from access to novel therapies through clinical trials.

The partnership stems from a long history of cooperation between Yale and AstraZeneca, according to Roy Herbst ’84 GRD ’84, the associate director for translational research at the Yale Cancer Center and chief of medical oncology for the Center and the Smilow Cancer Hospital. Herbst said that he and LoRusso both had extensive experience working with AstraZeneca on clinical trials and projects, but the current partnership was officially launched earlier this year after AstraZeneca expressed interest in cultivating a closer, more productive relationship.

Herbst and LoRusso will also serve as co-chairs of a joint steering committee between Yale and AstraZeneca. The committee will be responsible for overseeing existing research endeavors and developing new projects for the future, Herbst said, which include analyzing lung cancer that is resistant to new therapies and designing targeted immunotherapies. He added that he hopes news of this alliance with AstraZeneca will also inspire Yale scientists and clinicians who are not currently involved in lung cancer research to contribute fresh ideas and approaches.

“AstraZeneca brings to us the resources of a drug development giant with a toolbox of new compounds and drugs that we can study in the lab and the clinic, while Yale offers an interactive group of basic and translational investigators and the scientific excellence that only a university setting has,” Herbst said. “No one will get to the finish line alone — it really takes a collaborative effort to treat these aggressive cancers.”

Research partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are not new for the center. A seven-year collaboration with Gilead Sciences, which led to “a litany of high-impact publications that informed the genetic drivers of a variety of cancers,” is currently coming to a close, Fuchs said. The center also has an ongoing partnership with the biotechnology company Genentech.

Outside of industry collaborations, the Yale Cancer Center relies on a variety of sources for funding, including private foundations, philanthropic efforts and government organizations such as the National Institutes of Health. Fuchs noted that research alliances with biopharmaceutical companies can be particularly invaluable in the face of potential cuts to NIH funding of biomedical research. The center’s ability to partner with AstraZeneca to create new drugs and molecules, as well as test them in clinical trials, is a win-win situation for all parties — especially patients, he said.

“For me, what’s exciting is being able to take the science at Yale and translate it into meaningful benefit for patients,” Fuchs said. “It’s not that the science itself is not important or exciting, but having the ability to leverage that science into something that will really impact patient treatment is what ultimately drives us.”

There have been an estimated 222,500 new cases of lung and bronchus cancer in the United States since the beginning of 2017, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Ellen Kanellen.kan@yale.edu