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Drug Discovery alliance with Astex Pharmaceuticals extended

Newcastle University has extended its drug discovery alliance with CRUK and Astex Pharmaceuticals to continue its focus on the discovery and development of new cancer drugs.

22 November 2022

Newcastle University has extended its drug discovery alliance with CRUK and Astex Pharmaceuticals to continue its focus on the discovery and development of new cancer drugs.

The collaboration, involving Cancer Research UK’s newly launched innovation engine, Cancer Research Horizons, will look at the potential of new cancer drugs with associated biomarkers, providing a unique route to the development of more effective cancer medicines.

The agreement signed between the three parties will extend their current alliance by a further five years, which, if carried to term, will result in a continuous strategic drug discovery alliance spanning 15 years.

Cumulatively, this will be one of Cancer Research UK’s longest running translational collaborations with a relationship spanning nearly 20 years.

Maximising development

Steve Wedge, Professor of Stratified Cancer Medicine Discovery at Newcastle University, and Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Research Horizons, said: "This major academic-industry collaboration has had genuine success, and I am delighted to see it continue to build on the impressive track record of all partners.

“Risk-sharing partnerships like this allow us to bring together complementary expertise and enable us to maximise the development of our world-class research into cancer treatments."

Not enough promising treatments are reaching cancer patients fast enough, with many discoveries stalling in the translational gap.

Building stronger bridges between academic researchers and industry is vital for making sure that there is a route for potentially useful compounds to be progressed to the next stages of drug development and eventually into treatments for patients.

The alliance brings together world-leading researchers in structural and cellular biology, and medicinal chemistry with the innovative small molecule fragment-based drug discovery and development capabilities of Astex, in order to speed up promising discoveries making it out of the lab and into the clinic.

The existing alliance portfolio includes multiple projects across target validation and early-stage hit-identification, with projects progressing towards the more advanced stages of pre-clinical development. This multi-project alliance has proven to be a powerful approach to innovative drug discovery.

Dr Iain Foulkes, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Research Horizons, said: “The extension of this alliance is a testament to the long-running success of the efforts of all three partners over nearly 20 years of existing collaboration.

“We are excited to see that this alliance will continue on under our new organisation, Cancer Research Horizons, which will provide the scale, agility and access to commercial expertise that any partner needs to accelerate promising discoveries out of the lab and into the hands of patients.”

Building on success

The alliance has already resulted in the identification of an MDM2-p53 antagonist compound (ASTX295) which has entered clinical evaluation. This builds on the success of a previous collaboration between Astex, Newcastle University and CRUK on evaluating inhibitors of the Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor tyrosine kinase family, a key cancer target that ultimately led to the development of a first-in-class medicine.

Under the terms of the alliance agreement, Astex retains the right to an exclusive worldwide licence to take the most promising projects forward into pre-clinical and clinical drug development. Cancer Research UK and Newcastle University are eligible to receive milestone and royalty payments on any compounds that make it into clinical development and onto the market.

Dr David Rees, Chief Scientific Officer of Astex Pharmaceuticals (UK) said: “Our strategic alliance with Newcastle and CRT is an important and successful collaboration for Astex. We are excited to extend our alliance to discover novel compounds to take forward into development.”