MELBOURNE, Australia, February 9, 2016 (ENS) – A promising new cancer drug, developed in Australia by the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), has been licensed to U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck in a deal worth US$730 million.

The drug, which was developed with support from the UK-based Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Technology (CRT), has potential clinical applications in both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders, affecting millions of people worldwide.

From the Australian government science agency, CSIRO, Dr. Tom Peat, one of the key research partners in CTx, says the drug is designed to inhibit the protein arginine methyltransferase 5, PRMT5.

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Scientist working in CSIRO Recombinant Protein Production Facility (Photo courtesy CSIRO)

This protein is associated with many cancers, including: mantle cell lymphoma, lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

“Patients who have these types of cancers often have high levels of this protein, which is unfortunately also linked to poor survival rates,” said Dr. Peat.

He explained that using the recombinant protein production facilities at CSIRO, scientists 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 explained.

“The CTx consortium was able to develop a drug that binds to this protein, allowing it to target the cancerous cells,” he said.

One of the largest preclinical deals in Australian history, it showcases the quality and value of Australian cancer research and researchers on the international stage.

Financial returns from the deal will be shared between CRT, CTx and the Wellcome Trust, with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners, including: CSIRO, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

Dr Richard Seabrook, head of business development at the Wellcome Trust, said, “We’re excited to see that the support from our Seeding Drug Discovery Award is playing a key role in moving the project forward. We hope that in time the collaboration will lead to the development of effective new treatments for hemoglobin disorders such as sickle cell and beta thalassemia, both of which are associated with significant illness and early mortality.”

Under the terms of the license, Merck US will now further develop the drug, taking it to clinical trials, with a view to 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.

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

Dr. 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.”

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