Cancer Research Technology (CRT), the development and commercialization arm of Cancer Research U.K., has entered into a license agreement with MSD, known as Merck in the U.S. and Canada, to develop inhibitors of protein arginine methyltransferase 5 (PRMT5). These new drugs, which potentially have clinical applications in both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders, have been developed by the Australian Cooperative Research Center (CRC) for Cancer Therapeutics (CTx) with support from the Wellcome Trust and CRT.
CRT has licensed rights to MSD on behalf of CTx, a Melbourne-based CRC focused on the discovery and development of novel therapies for cancer. The program is the result of initial research by Professor Stephen Jane at Monash University and collaboration between the CTx academic 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 leukemia (CLL), melanoma, lung and breast cancers and are linked to poor survival.
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 like sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.
MSD will be responsible for research and development, including clinical development, and for worldwide commercialization of products. As part of the research and development activities, MSD has entered into a research collaboration with CTx focusing on blood disorders, which MSD will fund.
CRT will receive an upfront payment of US$15 million and is eligible to receive potential payments of up to $0.5 billion for achievement of development, regulatory and commercialization milestones. In addition, the agreement provides for royalties on sales. All payments will be shared between CRT, CTx and the Wellcome Trust with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners.