Epigenetics evolves in international partnership

CellCentric licenses novel epigenetic discovery program to Takeda

Kimberely Sirk
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CAMBRIDGE, England—Biotechnology firm CellCentric has sharedsome of its broad knowledge of the emerging field of epigenetics with Japanesepharmaceutical conglomerate Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. that isconducting path-breaking therapeutic research in cell fate control.
This is a pioneering deal for the emerging area ofepigenetics, which studies gene expression or changes in appearance that arecaused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA of the organism,demonstrating the commercial interest in novel epigenetic targets beyondhistone deacetylases (HDACs) and DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs). HDACs andDNMTs are the initial targets in the application of epigenetics to cancertreatment; this licensing agreement seeks to broaden the scope of study beyondthese two targets.
Dr. Will West, CEO of CellCentric, says that this agreementshows that interest in epigenetics is not just a passing fancy.
"This license is a strong endorsement of the way we areapproaching innovation in epigenetics," West said in a statement. "This is anarea that is no longer seen as just interesting, but as a necessity forpharmaceutical companies growing their armory for tackling intractable diseasessuch as cancer."
Many diseases, including cancer, involve a loss of cell fatecontrol. In many cases, this is associated with aberrant epigenetic changes tochromatin: dynamic modifications of DNA and its associated proteins, includinghistones. These epigenetic alterations are caused by a range of enzymes. 
It has become increasingly clear that there are many otherkey epigenetic-related enzymes that can be targeted and which may offer greaterspecificity of action and may help better define the path to diseases such ascancer. These include histone methyltransferases, demethylases andubiquitin-related enzymes.
CellCentric has an innovation platform built uponrelationships with more than 30 world-leading research labs in epigenetics. Thecompany has identified multiple next-generation targets and runs a series ofactive drug discovery in the UK.
Therapeutic research will be initiated by Takeda's researchgroup. Development of molecules stemming from this agreement will be completedby Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, which is responsible for Takeda'sglobal oncology development strategy. Takeda did not respond to requests forcomment.
With an extensive portfolio and rich pipeline, CellCentric'sstrategy is to develop some target programs through sharing its intellectualproperty through licensing to select pharmaceutical companies while retainingother programs for development itself.Dr. Hiroyuki Odaka, general manager of the pharmaceuticalresearch division of Takeda, said in a statement that "epigenetics is animportant area for novel oncology therapeutics. This new agreement demonstratesour commitment to researching and pioneering the best ways to treat cancer." 
Under the terms of the new agreement, CellCentric willreceive 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 overthe course of the agreement.
Formed in 2004, CellCentric works with more than 30 academiclabs around the globe to identify, patent and commercialize productopportunities. CellCentric currently has seven novel target discovery programsongoing, focused on cancer, as well as multiple projects to areas of studywithin the emerging field of epigenetics.

Kimberely Sirk

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