EMD Serono, ICR and Wellcome Trust partner develop anti-cancer drugs

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Merck subsidiary EMD Serono, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Wellcome Trust have entered into a co-development and licence agreement for new drug candidates to treat different forms of cancer.

The agreement builds on two independent research programmes at both the ICR and EMD Serono to identify inhibitors of tankyrase, an enzyme of the poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase family.

The new collaboration will be funded by EMD Serono and the Wellcome Trust, while the existing drug discovery programme at the ICR is supported by a Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery Award.

Under the deal, a team led by Dr Chris Lord and professor Alan Ashworth at the ICR and a research group at EMD Serono will progress chemical compounds that have emerged from both organisations’ tankyrase inhibitor programmes towards clinical development.

“We aim to harness the already well-advanced tankyrase programmes at both ICR and EMD Serono and hope to ultimately translate these into novel treatment options for cancer patients.”

ICR Breast Cancer Research Division team leader Dr Chris Lord said: “Tankyrase inhibitors provide a unique opportunity to target one of the most common characteristics of cancer cells, their dependency on the so-called ‘Wnt signaling’ pathway.

“Both EMD Serono and the group at the ICR have already made notable progress in developing tankyrase inhibitors.

“Working with EMD Serono will allow us to jointly accelerate our program with the aim to ultimately make tankyrase inhibitors available to cancer patients.”

At the end of the collaboration period, EMD will take over full responsibility for the selected clinical development candidate.

The deal will see EMD Serono make milestone payments based on achieving regulatory and sales goals plus royalty payments on net sales of future products discovered or developed as part of the collaboration.

Merck Serono head of the Oncology Translational Innovation Platform Dr Andree Blaukat: “We are delighted to work together with Dr Chris Lord and Professor Alan Ashworth.

“With this partnership, we aim to harness the already well-advanced tankyrase programmes at both ICR and EMD Serono and hope to ultimately translate these into novel treatment options for cancer patients.

“We will build on a joint compound base of potent tankyrase inhibitors and will leverage both sites’ scientific knowledge about the ‘Wnt pathway’ that plays a major role in signal transduction for tumor growth.

“The interest of the Wellcome Trust shows its belief in our researchers’ scientific data. It also shows the importance of academia-industry collaboration models in pharmaceutical development to progress the most promising investigational compounds into clinics with the aim of bringing them to patients.”

According to the company, some of the most promising advances in cancer research have been small-molecule inhibitors which block the activity of members of the poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) enzyme family, which includes the enzyme tankyrase.