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Alliance for Discovery of WNT Pathway Inhibitors


Monday 13 July 2009


Cancer Research Technology (CRT), Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Cancer Research UK, Cardiff University and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are set to begin a major new research collaboration for the first time. This will provide substantial investment in research on the WNT signalling pathway in the hope of finding new drug targets.


This cross-disciplinary, multicentre effort, spanning up to three years, will focus on the discovery of inhibitors of the WNT pathway. This pathway is involved in the physiological tissue development in embryos, as well as in tissue maintenance in adults.


Mutations in this pathway alter the molecular switches that regulate the WNT pathway and leave it permanently switched on. Such continuous activation can result in the development of cancer. Deregulation of this pathway is a frequent activating event in human cancers and is known to be linked to bowel, skin, breast and other cancers. The aim of this collaboration is to identify and develop small molecule inhibitors of the WNT pathway that could eventually become novel treatments for cancer patients.


This collaboration was established by CRT, Cancer Research UK's commercialisation and development company, following work funded by the charity's Discovery Committee which set the translational foundations for the programme.


Merck Serono will contribute substantial funding which will augment existing investment by Cancer Research UK, the ICR and Cardiff University. This will allow more rapid translation of insights into drugs that may benefit cancer patients. The work will take place at Cardiff University, the ICR and Merck Serono. Financial details were not disclosed.


Professor Trevor Dale, lead scientist on the programme at Cardiff University said: "Normal cells communicate with each other by exchanging WNT protein signals. A WNT signal will instruct a cell to grow, divide and behave like a stem cell. Cancer mutations break the molecular switches that connect WNT proteins to cell growth. This in effect leaves the pathway permanently switched on. This collaboration will allow us to convert these biological insights into therapies which one day may help us treat cancer patients."


Professor Julian Blagg, the lead scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research continued: "This collaboration brings together Cardiff's expertise in the fundamental biology of the pathway along with the drug discovery and development expertise at the ICR and Merck Serono. This will enable us to make real progress in targeting this exciting area and harness the enormous potential in WNT pathway therapy."


Dr Phil L'Huillier, CRT's Director of Business Management, said: "Today's deal represents a significant endorsement for investment in the development of early scientific research. It is testament to the promise of the lab-based research that we are now in a position to take it forward with such a large-scale project and begin to think about new treatments for cancer patients. We hope by pooling expertise we will be able to progress WNT pathway inhibitors in the fastest possible time."



For media enquiries, please contact Josie Gray in the Cancer Research Technology press office on 020 7061 8309 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.


The WNT pathway derives its name from the Drosophila (fruit-fly) Wingless gene and the mouse INT-1 gene.

WNT ligands are key regulators of cell reproduction development and survival. They mediate a range of processes including regeneration and injury repair in adult tissues. This involves regulating a number of biochemical signalling pathways.

Further reference: Trevor Dale et al. 2008. Ewan, K. and Dale, T. C. (2008) Page 532 to 547. The potential for targeting oncogenic Wnt/β-catenin signaling in therapy. Current Drug Targets 9 (7).


About Cancer Research Technology

Cancer Research Technology Limited (CRT) is a specialist development and commercialisation company, which aims to develop new discoveries in cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients. CRT works closely with leading international cancer scientists and their institutes to protect intellectual property arising from their research and to establish links with commercial partners. CRT facilitates the discovery, development and marketing of new cancer therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics and enabling technologies. CRT is wholly owned by Cancer Research UK, the largest independent funder of cancer research in the world.


About Cancer Research UK

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit


About Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.
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About The Institute of Cancer Research

The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe's leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting-edge research. In 2009, the ICR marks its 100 years of groundbreaking research into cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The ICR is home to the world's leading academic drug development team, which has developed many drugs now used as standard cancer treatments. It continues to be at the forefront of drug development, discovering an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years. In December 2008, the ICR was ranked as the UK's leading academic research centre by the Times Higher Education's Table of Excellence, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council's Research Assessment Exercise. The ICR is a charity that relies on voluntary income.

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