An anti-cancer drug which was discovered at Aston University has reached sales of $1billion per annum.
Temozolomide* – a chemotherapy drug used in combination with radiotherapy on patients with the most common form of brain tumour – was discovered thirty years ago in Aston’s renowned School of Pharmacy. The project, led by Professor Malcolm Stevens, has resulted in a significant increase in survival rates with minimal side effects for patients..
At a reunion event to celebrate the 30th anniversary last October, Professor Stevens commented, ‘At Aston in the 1970s an innovative team of cancer researchers and drug discovery and development scientists assembled in the Pharmacy Department. One of the products of the group was Temozolomide, now the agent of choice in the treatment of brain tumours, which has made a major impact in cancer treatment. And the Temozolomide story is not over as it has become a favoured partner in new drug combinations and may eventually be used In other therapeutic areas.’
The genesis of Temozolomide lay in an instruction from his supervisors to Aston PhD student , Robert Stone, to ‘make some interesting molecules’. He did just that and in the early 1980s, after a couple of near misses, Temozolomide was synthesized and Aston’s place in the history of cancer drug development was secured.
Dr Stone, now based in Australia, said, ‘The discovery now seems so long ago but it is gratifying to know that it helps more and more people each year. It serves to remind us we must embrace long term research and development horizons, and have people with vision, belief and tenacity to lead these research teams to achieve success.’
Professor Julia King, Aston’s Vice-Chancellor, agrees: ‘The discovery of Temozolomide was a huge achievement which shows how research teams in an academic environment can work together to achieve results that change the world. We want to create a research environment at Aston which could lead to the discovery of the next Temozolomide. We believe that, given the right resources and support, talent and hard work can come together to develop another medicinal discovery on this scale.’
Aston’s School of Life & Health Sciences, of which the School of Pharmacy is an important part, is one of the leading research schools in the UK. In the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008 in Allied Heath Profession and Studies the School had the third highest percentage of research that was either internationally excellent or world leading**, with over 75% of eligible staff submitted.
Professor Martin Griffin, Executive Dean, said, ‘The RAE showed that research in the School is extremely strong, and we are looking to build on that success in the near future with exciting developments in areas such as healthy ageing, neurosciences and pharmacy, amongst others. Our research tends to be applied; we are regularly working with the NHS and other organisations, which means that routes are already established for new discoveries to benefit people, just as Temozolomide has done’.
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Notes to editors:
* Temozolomide is also known by its brand names, Temodar and Temodal. It is marketed by Schering Plough.
** Based on percentage of research classed as 3* or 4*. For more information on the RAE2008, including an explanation of methodology, please visit www.hefce.ac.uk
Temozolomide is a type of drug known as an alkylating agent and it works by stopping cancer cells from making new DNA. If cancer cells can not make DNA, they can not split into two new cancer cells. Temozolomide comes as a capsule that can be swallowed.