Does the human body’s immune system hold the key to defeating cancer?

Scientists are about to find out. 

GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) has signed a research and development deal with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas that will focus on using the body’s immune system to fight cancer. The deal could be worth $335 million plus royalties.

The agreement was announced Friday.

Anderson is regarded as one of the world’s top cancer research centers.

Under the contract, GSK receives exclusive rights to develop and sell antibodies related to the research.

“This agreement is not only a tribute to the ability of MD Anderson scientists to discover new targets and potential therapies against those targets for cancer patients, it’s also a testament to the vision shared by GSK and MD Anderson that successful clinical development of oncology drugs requires seamless integration of drug development expertise and deep biological knowledge,” said Giulio Draetta, director of the center’s Department of Immunology. “The IACS was formed to enable precisely such integration to expedite the accurate translation of great science into drugs.”

IACS refers to the center’s recently formed Institute for Applied Cancer Science.

Research will focus on discoveries made by Dr. Yong-Jun Liu and others involving a protein on the surface of certain white blood cells.

“Malignant cells are an abnormality that usually attracts a response from the body’s immune system, yet cancer often survives by evading or thwarting anti-tumor immunity,” the cancer center said. “Consistently unleashing the power of the immune system against cancer would be a major step forward for cancer patients.”

GSK operates its North American headquarters in RTP.

[GSK ARCHIVE: Check out 10 years of GSK stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]