More Patients Could Benefit from Sheffield’s Pioneering Cancer Drug

27 July 2017

A pioneering drug discovered at the University of Sheffield with funding from Yorkshire Cancer Research could become available to patients diagnosed with a wide range of cancers.

Pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Merck & Co., Inc., have today (Thursday, July 27) announced a global strategic oncology collaboration to co-develop and co-commercialise Lynparza (olaparib) for multiple cancer types. Lynparza, the world’s first and leading PARP inhibitor, is currently available for the treatment of some women with advanced BRCA2-related ovarian cancer.

In 2005, Professor Thomas Helleday and his team of researchers at the University of Sheffield demonstrated how PARP inhibitors could be used as a tailored treatment for patients with BRCA2 mutations, which are seen in both hereditary ovarian and breast cancer. The discovery was patent protected and licensed to pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca who continued the development process and undertook successful clinical trials.

Lynparza is now being developed to treat a number of other tumour types, including breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers. AstraZeneca and Merck will develop and commercialise the drug jointly, both as monotherapy and in combination with other potential medicines, further increasing the number of treatment options available for patients.

Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer of AstraZeneca, said: “Our strategic collaboration builds on scientific evidence that PARP inhibitors can be combined with PD-L1/PD-1 inhibitors for a range of tumours. By bringing together the expertise of two leading oncology innovators, we will accelerate Lynparza’s potential to become the preferred backbone of many immuno-oncology combination therapies as the world’s first and leading PARP inhibitor. This is a truly exciting step and we are pleased to work with Merck, a company that shares our passion for science to deliver new medicines for cancer patients.”

Dr Kathryn Scott, Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “We are thrilled by the announcement that AstraZeneca and Merck will be collaborating on the development of Lynparza. “We’ve long-held the belief that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of Lynparza’s potential to help cancer patients, so it’s extremely exciting to see this first step in testing the treatment in combination with other drugs that also hold great promise. The partnership could significantly increase the number of patients who can benefit this innovative treatment. “It’s thanks to our supporters across Yorkshire that Lynparza was first discovered, and they should feel very proud that they have helped to develop a treatment that has had such successful outcomes.”

Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, said: “We are exceptionally proud that the University of Sheffield pioneered the research which has made this new therapy possible.

“We welcome the announcement that AstraZeneca and Merck are working together to make this ground-breaking treatment available to more patients.

“This is another example of the University of Sheffield’s global reputation for research excellence, which provides the basis for key national and international policy decisions, improves treatments and enables technologies that are making for a better world.”



About PARP inhibitors

PARP inhibitors work by blocking the cancer cell’s ability to repair damage. Healthy cells reproduce by dividing DNA into two strands and copying each strand. Before they do this, they repair damage in the DNA using the PARP protein.

If PARP is suppressed, normal cells use a second mechanism for DNA repair. Some cancers cannot undergo this second process because they have a mutation in a BRCA gene.

These cancer cells rely completely on PARP to fix the damage and so when PARP is suppressed the BRCA mutated cell is unable to grow and eventually dies.

Normal cells of the patient with a functioning BRCA are not affected. The novel element of the treatment is the fact that it is the mutation causing cancer that is exploited to specifically kill the cancer; this reduces the side effects often experienced with traditional anti-cancer treatments.  


Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email:

Notes to Editors

  • Harrogate-based Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.
  • We are committed to reducing the devastating impact of cancer on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.
  • Our mission is to work in partnership, fund research and support initiatives that will help people in Yorkshire avoid, survive and cope with cancer.
  • Current statistics show that 575 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates are higher than the England average due to social deprivation, post-industrialisation and lifestyle choices but also availability of healthcare services and difficulties accessing early diagnostics, clinical trials and the latest treatments.
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    • Promote screening programmes and fund research that can improve the diagnosis of cancer so we can detect and treat it at the earliest opportunity.
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    • Campaign for fair and equal access to the very best healthcare services and a greater share of the money spent nationally on research.
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