Trio is together again

Strategic drug discovery alliance between Astex Pharmaceuticals, Cancer Research Technology and Newcastle University builds on long-term relationship

Ilene Schneider
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DUBLIN, Calif.—Three entities that have worked togethersuccessfully before have signed a major five-year strategic drug discoveryalliance that will combine the strengths of a biotechnology company, anacademic institution and a commercialization source to develop approaches tochallenging targets.
The organizations in question are Astex PharmaceuticalsInc., a pharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development ofnovel small-molecule therapeutics with a focus on oncology; Cancer ResearchTechnology Ltd. (CRT), a commercialization and development company that aims todevelop new discoveries in cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients;and Newcastle University, which focuses on research in the areas of health andaging.
The partners will discover and develop new cancer drugs incollaboration with researchers at the Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery programat the Northern Institute for Cancer Research (NICR, Newcastle University). Thealliance builds on a previous collaboration between Astex, Newcastle and CRT onFGFr, a key cancer target, which led to the development of a clinical candidatethat Janssen has taken into a Phase I clinical trial, according to Dr. NeilThompson, senior vice president of Astex, who says he has been aware of theNewcastle team for 10 years.
Talks among the participants began in October 2011, "when wesaw the potential for an alliance," explains Phil Elstob, business developmentexecutive at CRT, whose organization will manage intellectual property thatleads to commercialization and facilitate interaction among the key players.Astex will retain an option to an exclusive worldwide license to develop andcommercialize pharmaceutical products from each alliance project. CRT andNewcastle are eligible to receive development and regulatory milestone paymentson exercise of the options, and on products that Astex takes into development(and royalties on sales of products).
"We want to collectively recognize the complete developmentof biomarkers as well as therapeutics, to see how to use molecules, select thepatients, hit the targets and derive therapeutic benefit," explains Prof.Herbie Newell, co-director of the Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery program atthe NICR. "The research will bring together preclinical drug and biomarkerdiscovery approaches using molecular, genetic and clinical data to identify newtargets in cancer cells that can be treated with drugs, and ultimatelymedicines to take into clinical trials that will provide new ways to treat thedisease and increase survival."
According to Newell, "The complementary expertise andresources of NICR in cancer biology, biomarker imaging and target validationand its proven track record in drug discovery, together with Astex'sfragment-based drug discovery approach, provides an outstanding opportunity forcollaboration. The Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery Program at the NICR has aformidable track-record in anticancer drug discovery and development, makingsignificant contributions in particular to the discovery of the first-in-classand first-in-cancer patient medicine."
"Astex has identified the strategic value of establishingalliances with leading academic institutes to provide complementary academicdrug discovery expertise and capabilities to identify new drug targets incancer cells and validation—proving the effectiveness of hitting these targetswith drugs—in order to continue to support a portfolio of projects to identifynovel targeted drugs," says Thompson. "This can be achieved on atarget-by-target basis, but the potential to have a broader strategiccollaboration to review and assess multiple targets across a portfolio ofprojects and on a longer-term basis is very attractive."
Astex's fragment-based drug discovery approach has resultedin a clinical pipeline that currently includes eight drugs in development: fourproprietary products, three of which are in Phase II trials at Astex with onein preclinical development, and three further candidates being tested inclinical trials by Astex's partners. 
"Now we can capitalize on the effort on the Newcastle sideto find new targets on classes of proteins that are not traditionallydrugable," Thompson says. "Our fragment-based approach would extend thecapability to these challenging targets."
"It's a way to see oncology in a different light," Newellsummarizes. "The collaboration will focus on the underlying molecular geneticand epigenetic changes that dictate where the use of drugs is most effective.That usage will be dictated by targets and tumor types."

Ilene Schneider

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