Oncology research hits the Outback

Australia’s Cancer Therapeutics collaborates with Duke University to develop cancer drug therapies

Lloyd Dunlap
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MELBOURNE, Australia—In a multi-faceted process involvingcorporations, a U.K.-based charity and academia, Cancer Therapeutics CRC Pty.Ltd., (CTx) will team with Duke University in North Carolina to discover anddevelop new drugs for the treatment of many forms of cancer based on researchundertaken by the laboratory of Duke professor Patrick Casey.
According to CTx CEO Tony Evans, joining hands with aninstitution the caliber of the Duke Medical Center represents a major expansionof the company's capabilities in partnering with overseas cancer researchers inorder to source the most promising novel targets for CTx's drug discoverypipeline.
Professor Casey and his team at Duke have been investigatinglipid signaling pathways and the role of lipid metabolizing enzymes in cancerfor many years and have developed a series of promising new inhibitors of theseenzymes. CTx has an exclusive license for these inhibitors and will initiate adrug development program to bring these early-stage compounds toward the clinic. 
Guy Heathers, chief business officer at CTx, stresses thatdeveloping a broad-based expertise in cancer drug discovery is his company'smission, and they are looking at Casey's program as one interesting noveltarget for new cancer drugs among many which with they are involved. CTx isitself the result of collaboration between a number of Australian researchinstitutions and corporations with the goal of cancer drug discovery anddevelopment and is funded under the Australian government's CRC "scheme,"Heathers says.
"This program is a federal Australian government's scheme,going about 15 years now, which seeks to stimulate collaborations betweenresearch groups in Australia and industry. It funds about five to 10 projectsper year to the tune of around 15 to 30 million AUD, over a seven-year period.So these are quite large grants and underpin some of Australia's major researchinitiatives," Heathers says.
The Duke collaboration was facilitated by CTx's commercialpartner in the U.K., Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and its U.S. subsidiary,Cancer Research Technology Inc., principally under the direction of LarrySteranka at CRT in Boston.
"This office gets in contact with a lot of academic cancerresearch institutes in the U.S. to help commercialize their research and theymade the preliminary contacts with Duke, which we then followed up," Heathersstates.
He notes that Cancer Research Technology is wholly owned bythe U.K. charity, Cancer Research UK, which seeks to commercialize academic cancerresearch into the biotech/pharma industry. It has been in operation since 1984and has "a couple of drugs on the market," Heathers notes, the major drug beingTemozolamide. It also has its own drug discovery and development group in aparallel operation to CTx in Australia working on up to 15 projects per year.
CTx was launched just over two years ago, with the objectiveof taking novel or relatively novel molecular targets or early-stage compoundsfrom research institutes or biotech companies in Australia, or overseas,undertaking hit discovery, hit-to-lead development and lead optimization toproduce high-quality, preclinical trial candidates for further development andcommercialization. Although it has "no major achievements" to date, CTx is workingon a number of drug discovery projects.
Heathers adds that the company hasbrought together more than 60 scientists, many of whom have Big Pharmaexperience, in what is probably Australia's largest collection of drugdiscovery expertise and experience with state-of-the-art facilities at a numberof locations throughout Australia and approximately 140 million AUD in fundingand in-kind commitments over a seven-year period.

Lloyd Dunlap

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