Boehringer Ingelheim and Vanderbilt University have entered their third collaboration project to discover and develop treatments for difficult-to-treat cancers.

The partners intend to develop chemical therapeutics designed to block the pro-survival myeloid cell leukaemia 1 (MCL1) protein, which is highly prevalent in difficult-to-treat cancers and prevents their programmed cell death.

Currently, there are no therapies targeting this protein. Researchers will work towards developing a molecule that binds to MCL1, triggering the on-target, mechanism-based cell death.

Boehringer Ingelheim Austria vice-president and research site head Darryl McConnell said: “Boehringer Ingelheim and Vanderbilt University have the expertise and are jointly focused on discovering breakthrough medicines against the cancer-causing proteins KRAS, SOS and now, MCL1.

“Together, we are committed to driving scientific research and development forward to help patients win the fight against cancer.”

“Together, we are committed to driving scientific research and development forward to help patients win the fight against cancer.”

Set to be carried out in the Stephen Fesik’s laboratory at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, the collaboration will involve researchers from Boehringer and Vanderbilt’s team of structural biologists, medicinal chemists, and cell biologists.

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Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Basic Sciences dean Lawrence Marnett said: “MCL1 is one of the top ten overexpressed genes in human cancer where it plays a role as a survival factor.

“It is a great target for therapy but candidate drugs need to disrupt high-affinity protein-protein interactions, which is very challenging.

“The Fesik laboratory has made impressive strides in developing such compounds and it is exciting to see them advanced toward clinical development through the partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim.”

Financial details of the deal have not been disclosed.