Cancer Research UK’s development and commercialisation arm Cancer Research Technology (CRT) has entered into a licence agreement with MSD (Merck, in the US and Canada) to develop and commercialise drugs arising from the protein arginine methyltransferase 5 (PRMT5) inhibitor programme.

Australian Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Cancer Therapeutics (CTx) has developed these new drugs with support from the Wellcome Trust and CRT.

The new drugs are claimed to have potential clinical applications in both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders.

On behalf of CTx, an Australian CRC focused on the discovery and development of new novel therapies for cancer, CRT has licenced rights to MSD.

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

As part of the research and development activities, MSD has entered into a research collaboration with CTx to focus on blood disorders, which will be funded by MSD.

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The deal will see CRT receive an upfront payment of $15m and is eligible to receive potential payments of up to $500m upon achievement of development, regulatory and commercialisation milestones.

Additionally, the deal provides for royalties on sales, while all payments will be shared between the three parties with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners.

The PRMT5 inhibitor drug programme is the result of research carried out by Professor Stephen Jane at Monash University / Alfred Health and a collaboration with CTx research participants and partners.

This 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.

It is reported that high levels of PRMT5 protein are found in mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), melanoma, lung and breast cancers.

CTx chief scientific officer Dr Ian Street said: "We are delighted to be working with CRT and MSD to progress the PRMT5 programme to the clinic.

"We are delighted to be working with CRT and MSD to progress the PRMT5 programme 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."

The PRMT5 inhibitor programme is designed to improve treatment for patients with cancer and blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia.

Cancer Research Technology business development director Dr Phil L’Huillier said: "We’re delighted to have brought together the multiple parties involved in the discovery and optimisation of this multi-purpose target and to have established this major license agreement.

"The deal provides potentially significant financial returns, which CRT will invest into life-saving cancer research, and most importantly will hopefully bring promising new drugs to cancer patients, as well as those suffering from blood disorders where there are no effective treatment options available."

Image: The partnership will see development of inhibitors of protein arginine methyltransferase 5 (PRMT5). Photo: courtesy of Cancer Research UK.