Trio is together again
December 2012
by Ilene Schneider  |  Email the author


DUBLIN, Calif.—Three entities that have worked together successfully before have signed a major five-year strategic drug discovery alliance that will combine the strengths of a biotechnology company, an academic institution and a commercialization source to develop approaches to challenging targets.
The organizations in question are Astex Pharmaceuticals Inc., a pharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel small-molecule therapeutics with a focus on oncology; Cancer Research Technology Ltd. (CRT), a commercialization and development company that aims to develop new discoveries in cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients; and Newcastle University, which focuses on research in the areas of health and aging.  
The partners will discover and develop new cancer drugs in collaboration with researchers at the Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery program at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research (NICR, Newcastle University). The alliance builds on a previous collaboration between Astex, Newcastle and CRT on FGFr, a key cancer target, which led to the development of a clinical candidate that Janssen has taken into a Phase I clinical trial, according to Dr. Neil Thompson, senior vice president of Astex, who says he has been aware of the Newcastle team for 10 years.  
Talks among the participants began in October 2011, "when we saw the potential for an alliance," explains Phil Elstob, business development executive at CRT, whose organization will manage intellectual property that leads to commercialization and facilitate interaction among the key players. Astex will retain an option to an exclusive worldwide license to develop and commercialize pharmaceutical products from each alliance project. CRT and Newcastle are eligible to receive development and regulatory milestone payments on exercise of the options, and on products that Astex takes into development (and royalties on sales of products).  
"We want to collectively recognize the complete development of biomarkers as well as therapeutics, to see how to use molecules, select the patients, hit the targets and derive therapeutic benefit," explains Prof. Herbie Newell, co- director of the Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery program at the NICR. "The research will bring together preclinical drug and biomarker discovery approaches using molecular, genetic and clinical data to identify new targets in cancer cells that can be treated with drugs, and ultimately medicines to take into clinical trials that will provide new ways to treat the disease and increase survival."  
According to Newell, "The complementary expertise and resources of NICR in cancer biology, biomarker imaging and target validation and its proven track record in drug discovery, together with Astex's fragment-based drug discovery approach, provides an outstanding opportunity for collaboration. The Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery Program at the NICR has a formidable track-record in anticancer drug discovery and development, making significant contributions in particular to the discovery of the first-in-class and first-in-cancer patient medicine."  
"Astex has identified the strategic value of establishing alliances with leading academic institutes to provide complementary academic drug discovery expertise and capabilities to identify new drug targets in cancer cells and validation—proving the effectiveness of hitting these targets with drugs—in order to continue to support a portfolio of projects to identify novel targeted drugs," says Thompson. "This can be achieved on a target-by-target basis, but the potential to have a broader strategic collaboration to review and assess multiple targets across a portfolio of projects and on a longer-term basis is very attractive."  
Astex's fragment-based drug discovery approach has resulted in a clinical pipeline that currently includes eight drugs in development: four proprietary products, three of which are in Phase II trials at Astex with one in preclinical development, and three further candidates being tested in clinical trials by Astex's partners. 
"Now we can capitalize on the effort on the Newcastle side to find new targets on classes of proteins that are not traditionally drugable," Thompson says. "Our fragment-based approach would extend the capability to these challenging targets."   "It's a way to see oncology in a different light," Newell summarizes. "The collaboration will focus on the underlying molecular genetic and epigenetic changes that dictate where the use of drugs is most effective. That usage will be dictated by targets and tumor types."
Code: E121206

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