Researchers start trial on AZ WEE1 drug in head and neck cancer

UK researchers have begun an early stage clinical trial on AstraZeneca’s experimental drug from the new WEE1 kinase drug class in head and neck cancer.

The Combinations Alliance – a joint initiative between the charity Cancer Research UK and the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres Network  – will lead the research.

Researchers are investigating whether using AZ’s AZD 1775 experimental compound, in combination with chemotherapy before surgery, or with chemotherapy and radiotherapy after surgery is more effective and reduces the risk of cancer returning.

They also want to find out if the combination of AZD 1775 and chemotherapy before surgery decreases the need for further treatment after surgery.

AZD 1775 is from the WEE1 kinase class, which attempt to disrupt growth of new cancer cells by preventing DNA replication.

The phase 1 trial will determine whether it is safe to combine AZD1775 with pre-surgery cisplatin chemotherapy and post-surgery cisplatin chemotherapy and radiotherapy in patients with head and neck cancer, and what dose is best.

Researchers on this window-of-opportunity trial are accepting treatment naïve patients between the age of 18 and 70 with cancer of the mouth, throat and voice box and are due to undergo surgery.

AZD1775 acts as a potent inhibitor of WEE1, and has been shown to increase the effectiveness of both cisplatin chemotherapy and radiotherapy in pre-clinical studies. It is one of AstraZeneca’s portfolio of DNA Damage Response compounds.

Standard treatment for high-risk head and neck cancer is surgery followed by cisplatin chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

While this treatment is the most effective option for patients, survival is still poor and the treatment often has a significant impact on quality of life for survivors.

Dr Ian Walker

Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical research, said: “We’re excited to have the opportunity to trial this new drug through our Combinations Alliance initiative. The initiative allows us to bring together combinations of treatments, using drugs that are in development, that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. And we look forward to seeing if this drug can improve treatment options for patients with head and neck cancer.”

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