Consortium signs deal with Basilea to develop resistance-busting cancer drugs

A group of academic organisations and funders has entered an agreement with biopharmaceutical company Basilea Pharmaceutica Ltd. to progress a new family of cancer drugs designed to block several key cancer-causing proteins at once.

The consortium, including The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and The University of Manchester, has granted Basilea exclusive worldwide rights to develop, manufacture and commercialise novel panRAF inhibitors.

The new drug class originated from research at ICR funded by Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

The drugs have the potential to be used where a patient’s tumour has developed resistance to existing drugs targeting the BRAF protein, which is mutated in a range of cancers including 50 per cent of melanomas and 10 per cent of bowel cancers.

The drugs target both BRAF and the growth pathways that the cells come to rely on when they become resistant. It is hoped that the new drugs could be effective in patients who have developed drug resistance and exhausted all other available treatments.

Under the terms of the agreement, the consortium will lead phase I clinical development of the new drug, and Basilea will take over responsibility for clinical development after that. In return, the consortium will receive an upfront payment, and potentially milestone payments and royalties if the development of the drug is ultimately successful.

A phase I clinical trial is expected to start later this year at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester. The trial will be funded by the Wellcome Trust, the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and the ICR, and The Christie charity.

Professor Caroline Springer, Professor of Biological Chemistry at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: "I'm delighted by today's announcement, which is excellent news for research into treatments for drug-resistant cancers. The agreement provides the foundation for the clinical development of this exciting new drug class. It is an important milestone in efforts to tackle resistance to existing cancer therapies and provide new options for cancer patients."

Dr Richard Seabrook, Head of Business Development at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Resistance to existing cancer drugs can be a tragedy for patients. By targeting multiple cancer-causing proteins, these new panRAF inhibitors could help overcome this problem and have the potential to be of great value in the clinic."

Dr. Laurenz Kellenberger, Basilea’s Chief Scientific Officer, said: "We are excited about complementing our growing and maturing oncology pipeline with this novel program including a lead compound expected to enter clinical testing in 2015. The available data shows that this novel class of panRAF inhibitors are active in tumours which have developed resistance to currently available RAF kinase inhibitors and have the potential to offer new treatment options for melanoma as well as additional cancer indications."

Professor Richard Marais, Director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute at The University of Manchester, said: "This agreement represents the culmination of over ten years of academic research and we are pleased to see our basic research studies being translated into patient benefit. Melanoma is a devastating disease that kills over 2,000 people each year in the UK and we hope that these new drugs will provide new lines of treatment for these patients."

Dr Keith Blundy, Chief Executive of Cancer Research Technology, said: "It’s always very rewarding to see a discovery involving Cancer Research UK funding making that vital first step into the clinic. This agreement is a great example of leading academic and clinical institutions working together with industry and the NHS to translate exciting new discoveries into new treatments that could benefit patients."