Cancer Research Technology (CRT) – the development and commercialisation arm of Cancer Research UK – has today entered into a license agreement with MSD, known as Merck in the US and Canada, to develop inhibitors of protein arginine methyltransferase 5 (PRMT5). These promising new drugs, which potentially have clinical applications in both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders, have been developed by the Australian Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Cancer Therapeutics (CTx) with support from the Wellcome Trust and CRT.
CRT has licensed rights to MSD on behalf of CTx – a Melbourne based CRC focused on the discovery and development of novel therapies for cancer. The programme is the result of initial research by Professor Stephen Jane at Monash University and collaboration between the CTx academic partners.
The PRMT5 protein is involved in many cellular processes including the epigenetic control of genes such as p53 – a gene that protects the cell against cancer-causing mutations and is faulty in nine out of ten cancers. High levels of PRMT5 protein are found in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), melanoma, lung and breast cancers and are linked to poor survival.
In addition to applications for cancer, PRMT5 inhibitors switch on important genes in the development of blood, which could provide disease-modifying treatment options for patients with blood disorders like sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.
Dr Ian Street, CTx chief scientific officer, said: “We are delighted to be working with CRT and MSD to progress the PRMT5 programme to the clinic. This is why CTx was established, to leverage cutting edge research developed by Australian scientists and ensure that this knowledge is translated for the benefit of patients.”
Under the terms of the license, MSD will be responsible for research and development, including clinical development, and for worldwide commercialisation of products. As part of the research and development activities, MSD has entered into a research collaboration with CTx focusing on blood disorders, which MSD will fund.
CRT will receive an upfront payment of US$15 million (around £10.5 million) and is eligible to receive potential payments of up to US$0.5 billion (around £0.35 billion) for achievement of development, regulatory and commercialisation milestones. In addition, the agreement provides for royalties on sales. All payments will be shared between CRT, CTx and the Wellcome Trust with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners.
Dr Phil L’Huillier, Cancer Research Technology’s director of business development, said: “We’re delighted to have brought together the multiple parties involved in the discovery and optimisation of this multi-purpose target and to have established this major license agreement. The deal provides potentially significant financial returns, which CRT will invest into life-saving cancer research, and most importantly will hopefully bring promising new drugs to cancer patients as well as those suffering from blood disorders where there are no effective treatment options available.”
Dr Warwick Tong, CTx chief executive, said: “This is a great result for Australian science and the CRC Programme as a whole and further demonstrates what can be achieved when science and commercialisation capabilities unite.”
Dr Richard Seabrook, head of business development at the Wellcome Trust, said: “We’re excited to see that the support from our Seeding Drug Discovery Award is playing a key role in moving the project forward. We hope that in time the collaboration will lead to the development of effective new treatments for haemoglobin disorders such as sickle cell and beta thalassemia, both of which are associated with significant illness and early mortality.”
For media enquiries contact Emily Head in the Cancer Research Technology press office on 020 3469 6189 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.
For media enquiries in Australia contact Dr Warwick Tong, CEO of Cancer Therapeutics CRC on +61 450296930.