CANCER RESEARCH TECHNOLOGY (CRT), the commercial arm of Cancer Research UK, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and , Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, have signed a licensing deal today extending a successful initial alliance to discover and develop anticancer drugs that block the WNT signalling pathway.
Today’s deal grants Merck Serono the rights to develop molecules discovered through a recently-completed four-year research collaboration between Merck Serono, CRT, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and Cardiff University.
At the same time the ICR, CRT and Merck Serono are signing a new two-year major collaboration to progress the existing compounds towards candidates for clinical trials and design further molecules to target the WNT signalling pathway. The work will also involve identifying biomarkers for target inhibition and patient selection. The new drug discovery work will be carried out by scientists at the ICR in London and at Merck Serono’s headquarters in Darmstadt with some financial support from Cancer Research UK.
The WNT pathway is key to tissue development and maintenance. Faults in the WNT pathway can leave it permanently switched on – and this is linked to the development of colorectal, breast and other cancers. An aberrantly activated WNT pathway could also play a role in establishing and maintaining cancer stem cells within tumours.
Professor Julian Blagg, the project’s lead scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Signalling through the WNT pathway is critical to uncontrolled cell proliferation in a number of tumour types, particularly colorectal cancer. In some cases the WNT pathway is permanently switched on by mutations in components of this signalling cascade - leading to uncontrolled growth. In a fast-moving and successful collaboration, we have discovered small molecule modulators of cancer cell signalling and we are excited by the opportunity to further progress this work in collaboration with Merck Serono. The announcement today helps to bring us a step closer to new treatments for cancer patients.”
Through today’s agreements Merck Serono has licensed the rights to all future intellectual property resulting from the new two-year alliance as well as to all existing intellectual property already generated through the completed four-year alliance.
Merck Serono will pay an upfront license fee to CRT and make further payments to CRT upon reaching development milestones. Merck Serono will also pay royalties from potential future drugs. CRT will share revenue with the ICR and Cardiff University.
Dr Phil L'Huillier, CRT’s director of business development, said: “This important agreement consolidates a previous fertile collaboration to discover and develop new cancer drugs. The WNT pathway is an exciting area of research with untapped potential to treat a range of cancer types. We’re bringing together partners from industry and academia with specialist expertise and experience to accelerate the development of exciting new treatments – which, we hope, will one day increase cancer survival.”
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