Extending an oncology effort
October 2017
by Mel J. Yeates  |  Email the author

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LONDON & CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—In mid-August, Cancer Research UK and Newcastle University announced a three-year extension to their strategic drug discovery alliance with Astex Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical company dedicated to discovery and development of novel small-molecule therapeutics. The alliance, formed in October of 2012, brings together world-leading researchers in structural and cellular biology and medicinal chemistry, with the innovative fragment-based small-molecule drug discovery and development capabilities of Astex.
 
Dr. Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said, “We’re delighted to extend this major collaboration, which accelerates the development of Cancer Research UK’s world-class work into new treatments for patients. Promising new compounds resulting from this partnership are now progressing towards the next stage of development. Multiproject alliances like this are powerful engines for innovation and drug discovery and this announcement underlines Cancer Research UK’s exceptional track record of bringing these together successfully.”
 
According to Dr. Phil Elstob, head of Commercial Portfolio at Cancer Research UK, “The Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery Unit at Newcastle University has a strong track record in anticancer drug discovery and development in partnership with industry. Whilst the group has worked successfully with industry on a target-by-target basis, it was thought that much more could be achieved with a broader strategic collaboration, realizing synergies and efficiencies by working across a portfolio of projects and on a longer-term basis.
 
“Newcastle University and Cancer Research UK have a joint technology transfer function (established in 2006), and together pitched the idea of a multiproject drug discovery alliance. Astex were attracted by the opportunity to review and assess multiple targets across a portfolio of projects, and to work with a world-leading translational oncology research institute.”
 
“The first approaches between Newcastle University and Astex were via Prof. Herbie Newell, emeritus professor of cancer therapeutics at Newcastle University, formerly executive director of Clinical and Translational Research at Cancer Research UK, and Neil Thompson, formerly SVP Biology at Astex,” Elstob continues. “The alliance was built on the success of an earlier collaboration between the parties to develop small-molecule inhibitors of the fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) tyrosine kinases. This partnership led to the discovery and development of erdafitinib, which is currently in Phase 2 clinical trials led by Astex’s partner Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V.”
 
The original agreement for the five-year alliance had Astex providing £1 million in funding annually to Newcastle University, for the support of research across biology, chemistry, pharmacology and imaging at the Northern institute for Cancer Research to identify and develop new cancer drugs and associated biomarkers to develop tests to determine which patients to treat and if new drugs are working.
 
Astex still retains the right to an exclusive worldwide license to take the most promising projects forward into preclinical and clinical drug development. Cancer Research UK and Newcastle University are also still eligible to receive milestone and royalty payments on any compounds that Astex takes into clinical development and successfully commercializes.
 
Dr. David Rees, chief scientific officer of Astex, commented, “Astex is pleased to extend our broad strategic drug discovery alliance with Newcastle University. Astex has benefitted from the review and assessment of multiple targets across an entire portfolio of alliance projects. The combined expertise and resources of the Northern institute for Cancer Research and Astex has provided an outstanding opportunity for collaboration.”
 
The researchers at the Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery Program at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University, continue to work to identify and develop new cancer drugs and associated biomarkers. The existing portfolio of research consists of multiple projects spanning target validation and early-stage medicinal chemistry, with projects progressing towards the more advanced stages of preclinical development. The new agreement also includes provisions for further extension of the alliance towards the end of the new three-year term.
 
“The extension of our agreement with Newcastle and Cancer Research UK underlines the success of our existing alliance and the importance we place on collaboration with world-leading academic research groups to strengthen our efforts to discover new treatments for patients. We look forward to continuing our important work and to continued success in bringing new compounds into development,” remarked Dr. Harren Jhoti, president and CEO of Astex.
 
Elstob tells DDNews, “Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, three in four people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years. The overall aim of the alliance between Newcastle and Astex is the development of new cancer medicines, which will be an important contributing factor in achieving this goal.
 
“Newcastle University’s vision focuses on academic excellence and the impact of academic work. The overriding aim is to deliver benefit to society as a whole, using academic knowledge, creativity and expertise to deliver innovations and solutions that will make a difference. As observed with PARP inhibitors, new cancer drugs can and will deliver a significant benefit to society. The progression of projects over the first five years of the alliance towards the more advanced stages of preclinical development is a clear sign that the partnership is successfully working towards the goals of both Cancer Research UK and Newcastle University.”
 
“The innovative academic-industry collaborative model pioneered with Astex has been a genuine success, and we are thrilled to be able to continue working in partnership on our drug discovery research. The alliance benefits significantly from complementary expertise and provides a route to progress promising novel therapies towards clinical use,” said Steve Wedge, professor of stratified cancer medicine discovery at Newcastle University. “There has been an excellent team spirit and energy in the collaboration throughout, and we are extremely pleased to be able to continue this partnership further. Importantly, our alliance provides real potential to deliver new treatments for cancer patients.”
Code: E101705

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