The Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute has entered into a multi-year collaboration with Novartis to continue the development of KRAS inhibitors, first discovered by the Institute. The mutations of the RAS family of genes account for more than 30% of all human cancers, including 95% of pancreatic cancers and 45% of colorectal cancers. However, over the past 30 years, it has not proved possible to find a direct pharmacological approach to target RAS that has yielded a drug on the market.
In 2017, Cancer Research UK and the Cancer Research Technology Pioneer Fund (CPF), managed by Sixth Element Capital, committed £2.5 million in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US to develop gold standard tests to analyse these novel RAS inhibitors. The new collaboration between Novartis and the Drug Discovery Unit at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute builds on this.
Under the terms of the agreement, which was facilitated by Sixth Element Capital and Cancer Research UK’s Commercial Partnerships team, Novartis will collaborate with the Beatson team to further develop the inhibitors and has the option to exclusively license compounds identified through the collaboration. This collaboration will allow scientists at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute to continue pursuing a highly structure-based design approach that will directly disrupt RAS activity to benefit patients worldwide. Collaborating with Novartis will substantially increase resources and technical expertise being deployed on the project, thereby giving it the best chance of succeeding.
Dr Robert James, Managing Partner of Sixth Element Capital, said: “This agreement with Novartis is validation of the Beatson team’s excellent science and innovative approach to hard-to-treat cancers, such as pancreatic and lung cancer. This very exciting and differentiated approach sits well with our strategy of funding innovative science in order to bring new therapeutic products and technologies to market, improving the care and lives of cancer patients.”
Professor Justin Bower and Dr Heather McKinnon, Joint Heads of Drug Discovery at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, said: “By working at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, the Drug Discovery Unit has been able to tackle one of the most challenging but profoundly important targets in cancer biology today. We are extremely excited to be collaborating with Novartis to take forward this highly successful RAS inhibitor project and translate our research and knowledge to the benefit of patients worldwide.”
Tony Hickson, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Business Officer, added: “This international collaboration and investment is timely given the renewed recent interest in targeting RAS. We hope to develop these small molecules to pave the way for new treatment options for patients with hard-to-treat cancers. Access to the substantial resources and technical expertise of Novartis will help accelerate this vital research into the clinic.”