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ICR teams up with Merck and Cancer Research UK on strategic drug discovery programme

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Merck's Modular Innovation Center building and logo. Image courtesy of Merck.

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and charity Cancer Research UK have announced a major new partnership with science and technology company Merck.

The new alliance will take a strategic joint approach to drug discovery and development in areas of shared scientific expertise, building on previous successful collaborations on individual research projects.

A multi-project collaboration and licensing deal aims to progress the discovery and development of potential cancer drugs, from target discovery to the nomination of a preclinical drug candidate. It will bring together three independent research programmes which aim to discover and develop separate new types of cancer drug.

Scientists working under the collaboration will also develop new biomarker tests, to show how new drugs work and to guide the selection of patients with specific tumour types to take part in clinical trials.

Re-investment into future research

Following the announcement of the new agreement, the partners met in Darmstadt, Germany, to discuss the first steps in the joint research.

Under the terms of the partnership, Merck has worldwide rights to take molecules discovered through the collaboration into clinical development.

The ICR and Cancer Research UK will receive milestone payments based on research and development achievements, regulatory and sales goals, and royalty payments on net sales of future products discovered or developed under the agreement.

Any payments made to Cancer Research UK and the ICR will be invested into future research.

We’re convinced that working in close partnership with industry is essential to take results into the clinic as soon as possible, and to make sure our research delivers maximum benefit for cancer patients.

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Benefits of an overarching collaboration

The ICR is an academic research institute and a charity. It employs around 800 researchers in a wide range of areas – including around 200 scientists in its Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit.

This is the leading academic drug discovery unit in the world, having discovered 20 new drug candidates and taken nine into clinical trials since 2005. The prostate cancer drug abiraterone, which was discovered at the ICR, is now a standard treatment worldwide.

Over several years, scientists in the unit have formed productive and efficient project teams with Merck scientists on some discrete research projects. These projects demonstrated the mutual benefit in agreeing an overarching strategic collaboration for these three programmes.

Start small and develop trust

Dr Angela Kukula, Director of Enterprise at the ICR, said:

“Our new collaboration is the culmination of years of working with Merck on some of our specific drug discovery and development programmes, but marks a shift to a more strategic way of working together on a set of new research opportunities.

“My advice to other academic organisations seeking to establish strategic partnerships with commercial companies is to start with manageable pieces of work, as we did with Merck, and develop trust and understanding over time.

“In choosing to partner with Merck it was important for us that they have been willing to share information and communicate, acting in single teams with our researchers and understanding how we work as an academic organisation.”

Innovative new treatments

Professor Raj Chopra, Director of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit at the ICR, said:

“We are delighted to be joining forces with Merck to accelerate the ICR’s world-leading research in understanding cancer pathways, identifying drug targets and discovering cancer drugs.

“We hope that through the diverse projects in this collaboration, we can identify molecules that are effective against a number of different tumour types. Together we can create innovative new treatments for the benefit of patients.”

Shared passions

Andree Blaukat, Senior Vice President, Head of TIP Oncology at Merck Healthcare, said:

“We are excited to share the news of our oncology research collaboration with Cancer Research UK’s Commercial Partnerships Team and The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

“This multi-project deal follows previous single project drug discovery collaborations and a more recent successful target validation collaboration. These esteemed organisations not only share our passion for discovery, but also our mission to discover treatments that improve cancer patients’ lives.

“Teaming up with the ICR on cutting-edge drug discovery provides us with enhanced capability to rapidly progress our collaborative projects into clinical development.”

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