CRT, The Institute of Cancer Research and Merck Serono sign WNT licensing deal

2013-07-31 00:00:00

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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Notes to editors

The WNT pathway derives its name from the Drosophila (fruit-fly) Wingless gene and the mouse INT-1 gene.

WNT ligands are key regulators of cell reproduction development and survival. They mediate a range of processes including regeneration and injury repair in adult tissues. This involves regulating a number of biochemical signalling pathways.

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities.  Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans.  Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff's three flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places.

About Merck Serono

Merck Serono is the biopharmaceutical division of Merck. With headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, Merck Serono offers leading brands in 150 countries to help patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, infertility, endocrine and metabolic disorders as well as cardiovascular diseases. In the United States and Canada, EMD Serono operates as a separately incorporated subsidiary of Merck Serono.

Merck Serono discovers, develops, manufactures and markets prescription medicines of both chemical and biological origin in specialist indications. We have an enduring commitment to deliver novel therapies in our core focus areas of neurology, oncology, immuno-oncology and immunology.

For more information, please visit

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world’s most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients’ lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.

As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR’s mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit