$21 million deal for Australian cancer discovery

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MSD has signed a new licensing agreement to develop inhibitors of protein arginine methyltransferase 5 (PRMT5) discovered at the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Cancer Therapeutics (CTx).

The therapies have potential application in both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders and were developed by the CTx with support from the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Tehnology (CRT), the development and commercialisation arm of Cancer Research UK.

CRT licensed the therapies to MSD on behalf of the Melbourne-based CTx.

The therapy is the product of initial research conducted by Professor Stephen Jane at Monash University and collaboration between the CTx academic partners.

CTx is a collaborative partnership of leading Research Institutes, Universities and biotechnology companies that translates Australia’s research discoveries into new cancer drugs ready for clinical development.

The Government awarded CTx a further six years of CRC Programme funding from July 2014. In addition to the CRC Programme funding CTx receives licensing revenues and additional cash and in-kind funding from its 17 partners.

The PRMT5 protein is involved in many cellular processes including the epigenetic control of genes such as p53 – a gene that protects the cell against cancer-causing mutations and is faulty in nine out of ten cancers.

High levels of PRMT5 protein are found in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), melanoma, lung and breast cancers and are linked to poor survival.

In addition to applications for cancer, PRMT5 inhibitors switch on genes in the development of blood, which could provide disease-modifying treatment options for patients with blood disorders like sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

Dr Ian Street, CTx chief scientific officer, said: “We are delighted to be working with CRT and MSD to progress the PRMT5 program to the clinic. This is why CTx was established, to leverage cutting edge research developed by Australian scientists and ensure that this knowledge is translated for the benefit of patients.”

Under the terms of the agreement, MSD will be responsible for research and development, including clinical development, and for worldwide commercialisation of products.

CRT will receive an upfront payment of US$15 million (around A$21 million) and is eligible to receive potential payments of up to US$0.5 billion (around A$0.7 billion) for achievement of development, regulatory and commercialisation milestones.

All payments will be shared between CRT, CTx and the Wellcome Trust with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners.

Dr Warwick Tong, CTx chief executive, said: “This is a great result for Australian science and the CRC Programme as a whole and further demonstrates what can be achieved when science and commercialisation capabilities unite.”