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AstraZeneca, Cancer Research UK Fund $8.9M Cancer Rx Project with CRT, ICR

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This article was originally published on June 8.

Cancer Research Technology, the tech-transfer company of research charity Cancer Research UK, said yesterday that it has forged a £5.6 million ($8.9 million) partnership with the Institute of Cancer Research and British drugs giant AstraZeneca to discover and develop cancer drugs that target molecular chaperones.

Under the three-year agreement, AstraZeneca will contribute more than £4 million while Cancer Research UK will provide £1.6 million to ICR, which will lead the scientific work. Cancer Research UK also funded the original research on which the new project will build, CRT said.

In exchange, AstraZeneca will get an exclusive worldwide license to commercialize compounds developed during the collaboration, while CRT and the ICR will receive undisclosed up-front and milestone payments and royalties on future products sales.

It is unclear whether the up-front payment for the license is separate from the £4 million pledged by AstraZeneca to support the research. Calls to the company were not returned in time for this story.

CRT was launched by Cancer Research UK in 2002 after the UK’s Cancer Research Campaign merged with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. CRUK is entirely funded by public donations — about $700 million between 2005 and 2006 — and has an annual research budget of more than $620 million to support nearly 500 research groups throughout the UK.

This is the second deal between CRT and AstraZeneca in just over a year. In May 2008, CRT said it would coordinate and conduct clinical trials for a tyrosine kinase inhibitor cancer therapy originally developed at AstraZeneca (see BTW, 5/21/2008).

The deal marked the first drug candidate to enter CRT’s Clinical Development Partnerships program, which aims to develop anti-cancer agents that have been “deprioritized” by pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The status of that clinical trial is not known; CRT officials could not be reached for comment.

CRT has since inked two other drug-discovery partnerships with other large pharmaceutical companies under the Clinical Development Partnerships model, including a pact announced last month to begin a phase I clinical trial of an aurora kinase inhibitor from GlaxoSmithKline. The identity of the third pharma partner has not been disclosed.

Although CRT was founded to help commercialize discoveries made by CRUK-funded scientists, the Clinical Development Partnerships was its first foray into partnering with big pharma. The deal announced yesterday with AstraZeneca, though not under the CDP program, continues CRT's effort to work with pharma partners to help bring basic research discoveries to market.

"This deal signifies a shared commitment to ensuring that the understanding gained from Cancer Research UK's early laboratory-based research work is given the investment necessary to ensure it reaches its full potential," Phil L'Huillier, director of business management at CRT, said in a statement.

The project will build on research previously conducted at ICR, a college of the University of London that also works in partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and has campuses in London and in Sutton, UK.

Paul Workman, director of the Cancer Research UK Center for Cancer Therapeutics at the ICR's Sutton campus, will help oversee the project, in which ICR and AstraZeneca scientists will investigate the role molecular chaperones play in aiding the formation of cancer-causing proteins and helping cancer cells survive and become more aggressive.

ICR scientists have demonstrated how cancer cells become more dependent than healthy cells on molecular chaperones for their growth and survival, and how several components of the chaperone system can be targeted to block cancer cell growth.

The collaboration will look for new proteins, excluding the well-established HSP90, to target in chaperone pathways, CRT said. Full details of these novel targets have not been published, but ICR scientists have published extensively on the components of the stress pathway and related chaperone targets, the organization said.

"We are impressed by the potential in these targets," Les Hughes, vice president of drug discovery for oncology and infection at AstraZeneca, said in a statement. "We aim to convert this early scientific promise into treatments that could make a real impact on the lives of cancer patients," he added.

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