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Epigenetics evolves in international partnership
April 2010
by Kimberley Sirk  |  Email the author


CAMBRIDGE, England—Biotechnology firm CellCentric has shared some of its broad knowledge of the emerging field of epigenetics with Japanese pharmaceutical conglomerate Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. that is conducting path-breaking therapeutic research in cell fate control.  
This is a pioneering deal for the emerging area of epigenetics, which studies gene expression or changes in appearance that are caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA of the organism, demonstrating the commercial interest in novel epigenetic targets beyond histone deacetylases (HDACs) and DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs). HDACs and DNMTs are the initial targets in the application of epigenetics to cancer treatment; this licensing agreement seeks to broaden the scope of study beyond these two targets.  
Dr. Will West, CEO of CellCentric, says that this agreement shows that interest in epigenetics is not just a passing fancy.  
"This license is a strong endorsement of the way we are approaching innovation in epigenetics," West said in a statement. "This is an area that is no longer seen as just interesting, but as a necessity for pharmaceutical companies growing their armory for tackling intractable diseases such as cancer."  
Many diseases, including cancer, involve a loss of cell fate control. In many cases, this is associated with aberrant epigenetic changes to chromatin: dynamic modifications of DNA and its associated proteins, including histones. These epigenetic alterations are caused by a range of enzymes. 
It has become increasingly clear that there are many other key epigenetic-related enzymes that can be targeted and which may offer greater specificity of action and may help better define the path to diseases such as cancer. These include histone methyltransferases, demethylases and ubiquitin-related enzymes.
CellCentric has an innovation platform built upon relationships with more than 30 world-leading research labs in epigenetics. The company has identified multiple next- generation targets and runs a series of active drug discovery in the UK.
Therapeutic research will be initiated by Takeda's research group. Development of molecules stemming from this agreement will be completed by Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, which is responsible for Takeda's global oncology development strategy. Takeda did not respond to requests for comment.  
With an extensive portfolio and rich pipeline, CellCentric's strategy is to develop some target programs through sharing its intellectual property through licensing to select pharmaceutical companies while retaining other programs for development itself.
Dr. Hiroyuki Odaka, general manager of the pharmaceutical research division of Takeda, said in a statement that "epigenetics is an important area for novel oncology therapeutics. This new agreement demonstrates our commitment to researching and pioneering the best ways to treat cancer."
Under the terms of the new agreement, CellCentric will receive from Takeda an upfront payment and preclinical and clinical milestones, in addition to future royalties. Based on the royalties and milestones defined, the overall deal could be worth in excess of $200 million to CellCentric over the course of the agreement.  
Formed in 2004, CellCentric works with more than 30 academic labs around the globe to identify, patent and commercialize product opportunities. CellCentric currently has seven novel target discovery programs ongoing, focused on cancer, as well as multiple projects to areas of study within the emerging field of epigenetics.
Code: E041007



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