Australian researchers from the Center Therapeutics CRC (CTx) have developed a promising cancer drug that can be used to treat mantle cell lymphoma. The drug has now been licensed to the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck in a $730 million deal.
The U.K.-based Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Technology (CRT) were crucial to support drug development that has several potential clinical applications in hemoglobinopathies (non-cancer blood disorders) and cancer therapies. Dr. Tom Peat from CSIRO – one of the lead research partners in CTx – said the drug is designed to inhibit the PRMT5 protein, which is associated with several cancers, including colorectal, breast, lung, and mantle cell lymphoma.
“Using our recombinant protein production facilities, we were able to produce samples of these proteins, crystallize them for structure-based drug design, and support the consortium’s pre-commercial investigations and trials. Access to high-quality protein is absolutely critical in structural biology approaches to drug discovery, and CSIRO is pleased to be able to contribute this key capability,” Peat said in a news release. “Patients who have these types of cancers often have high levels of this protein, which is, unfortunately, also linked to poor survival rates.”
In addition to cancer, PRMT5 inhibitors switch on key genes in the blood development process, which could lead to disease-modifying treatments for patients with blood conditions such as beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease.
“The CTx consortium was able to develop a drug that binds to this protein, allowing it to target the cancerous cells,” Peat said. “We’re thrilled to be part of this development, which has the potential to make a real difference for patients here in Australia and around the globe.”
Merck US will now advance the drug’s development under the new license terms. The company will start clinical trials soon, aiming toward worldwide commercialization. “This is a great result for Australian science and further demonstrates what can be achieved when science and commercialization capabilities unite,” said CTx Chief Executive Dr. Warwick Tong.