Cancer Research UK's development and commercialisation unit Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and SV Life Sciences have established a company called Artios Pharma to develop drugs targeting the DNA damage response within cancer.

In addition to licensing its two lead DNA damage response programmes from CRT, Artios Pharma has signed a non-exclusive research collaboration agreement, under which it will work with CRT Discovery Laboratories to advance the lead programmes, and discover and develop promising drug targets selected from the DNA damage repair research portfolio of Cancer Research UK.

DNA damage response therapies target the way cancer cells repair damaged DNA. Faults in DNA repair can increase the risk of cancer, as well as growth of tumours.

The DNA damage response therapies can work alone or in combination with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or immunotherapy drugs.

"We’re delighted to welcome our world-class investors to the company and to announce our first partnership with Cancer Research Technology."

Artios Pharma's lead programme targets the pol-theta molecule and builds on cell biology research from Professor Gillies McKenna’s and Dr Geoff Higgins’ laboratories at the Cancer Research UK / MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Biology.

The pol-theta molecule is believed to control DNA repair processes in some kind of tumours. Blocking out the target could eliminate a crucial path depended on by the cancer cell, causing it to die. Another promising programme against an undisclosed target has also been licensed to the newly launched firm.

Artios is building a pipeline of promising first-in-class DNA damage response therapies from leading researchers in the field.

Cancer Research UK’s research base will offer the basis for CRT to provide Artios with more new molecular targets and set up collaborative partnerships with scientists in the DNA damage response field.

CRT chief executive officer Dr Keith Blundy said: “We are pleased to have worked with SV Life Sciences to bring together the Cancer Research UK academic network, a portfolio of leading DNA damage response opportunities and the CRT Discovery Laboratories’ drug discovery platform to help build a strong development pipeline for Artios.

"This exciting development has enabled us to leverage the expertise of the Artios management team and financing from leading venture companies to help establish a company that has the potential to bring real impact to cancer patients.”

SV Life Sciences managing partner Kate Bingham said: “Artios represents a unique opportunity to build a world-class DNA damage response pipeline through partnerships with leading DNA repair researchers in the UK and worldwide.

"We are delighted to have worked together with CRT to form this company and are pleased with the strong investor interest in Artios, reflecting the potential of DNA damage response. With the strength of their management team, Artios has the potential to disrupt the DNA damage response space and provide significant new therapies for cancer patients.”

Artios Pharma CEO Dr Niall Martin said: “Targeting the DNA damage response is an exciting and promising field of biology with growing interest following the recent success of PARP inhibitors.

"DNA damage response drug products have the potential to become established as first-line treatments, either as single agents or for use in combination with many approved therapies. It is an ideal time for Artios to be entering the field as a DNA damage response-focused, independent biotech company.

"We’re delighted to welcome our world-class investors to the company and to announce our first partnership with Cancer Research Technology.”

According to the agreement, CRT will receive research funding into its Discovery Laboratories and equity in the company, as well as be eligible to receive milestone payments and royalties on projects advancing through Artios’ drug pipeline.

Led by SV Life Sciences, the newly launched firm has raised Series A financing of £25m ($33.2m) from Merck Ventures, Imperial Innovations, Arix Bioscience PLC, CRT Pioneer Fund (managed by Sixth Element) and AbbVie Ventures.