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Telomere Targeting Agents Licenced to Pharminox


Tuesday 13 October 2009


Cancer Research Technology (CRT) - Cancer Research UK's development and commercial arm - and the cancer drug discovery company Pharminox Ltd (Pharminox) today announced that CRT has granted Pharminox an exclusive worldwide licence over its programme targeting telomeres and telomerase - the enzyme that is responsible for maintaining them.


Today's announcement comes only a week after three American researchers were awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine* for their pioneering research into the role of telomeres and telomerase.


Telomeres are the repeat sequences of DNA and associated proteins found at the ends of chromosomes, which act as 'protective shields' to maintain chromosomal integrity. In normal cells, these shields get smaller each time a cell divides, until they reach a critically short length at which point the cell stops dividing and ultimately dies. In most cancer cells, however, the part of the telomere lost in cell division is restored by the telomerase enzyme, allowing the cells to continue to divide – effectively rendering them immortal.


Telomerase is thought to be expressed in around 90 per cent of tumours, but telomerase activity is barely detectable in normal tissues – making this enzyme an important target for cancer drug development.


Professor Malcolm Stevens OBE, FRS from the University of Nottingham, who led the original research programme, and who will continue to be involved in the project in his role as chief scientific officer at Pharminox, said: "Telomeres act in the same way as the little plastic caps on the ends of our shoelaces, protecting our chromosomes from fraying. The compounds that we have discovered appear to have a dual mechanism of action: they not only prevent telomerase from replacing the telomeric DNA lost in cell division, but they are also able to disrupt the protective cap around the telomere itself, thereby inducing cell damage and exerting a more rapid anti-tumour effect.


"The programme has made considerable progress and we have already seen promising anti-tumour activity in preclinical tests, but there is still some way to go before compounds from the programme could be used as new cancer treatments."


Peter Worrall, chief executive officer of Pharminox, added: "The critical role of telomeres and telomerase in protecting and immortalising cancer cells makes this a fundamentally important area of cancer science to explore. Today's agreement with CRT is exciting for Pharminox, and will allow us to continue our work to discover and develop potent and selective telomere targeting agents that could one day offer a new approach to the treatment of cancer."


Dr Phil L'Huillier, CRT's director of business management said: "We are delighted to be entering into this agreement with Pharminox and are confident that these compounds have strong development potential, thanks to the extensive investigation and development work undertaken by several teams of scientists from across the UK and Europe including the contribution of the CRT's own Discovery Laboratories, and more recently by Pharminox itself. Pharminox is in an excellent position to take forward this research in the hope of finding effective new treatments which have the potential to treat many forms of cancer."


Under the terms of the agreement, CRT will receive an undisclosed upfront payment and will be eligible for milestone payments as well as royalties on net sales of any resulting treatments. Upfront payment, milestones and royalties will be shared between CRT, the University of Nottingham - where the research programme funded by Cancer Research UK originates from - and The Institute of Cancer Research whose scientists also contributed to the research.




Media contact: Josie Gray in the Cancer Research Technology press office on 0207 061 8309 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editor:
*You can read the press release announcing the 2009 Nobel Prize for
Physiology and Medicine here:

Financial details are not disclosed.

Professor Malcolm Stevens led a team which discovered the brain cancer drug Temozolomide almost 30 years ago. Temozolomide is now used to treat patients worldwide. Find out more:

This licence agreement follows Pharminox's exercise of their option to in-license the Telomerase Inhibitor programme. You can read the press release announcing this in April 2006 here:

About the University of Nottingham
The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation - School of Pharmacy), and was named 'Entrepreneurial University of the Year' at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives ( in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

About Pharminox Ltd
Pharminox (, based in Nottingham, UK, is an emerging company focused on the discovery and development of small molecule drugs for the treatment of cancer.

The Company's internal drug discovery and in-licensing activities are target-driven and based on world-class medicinal chemistry, drug development and commercial expertise brought by an experienced team led by CEO Peter Worrall (ex Vernalis, British Biotech), CSO Professor Malcolm Stevens (former director of the Cancer Research UK Experimental Cancer Chemotherapy Group) and head of chemistry Mark Hummersone (ex-KuDOS Pharmaceuticals).

Since its formation in 2002, Pharminox has built a pipeline of proprietary anti-cancer programmes spanning early stage discovery through to clinical development, and has also established a broad collaboration with Schering Plough. The Company has an increasing research focus on targeted DNA damage and DNA repair inhibition.

Pharminox is supported by a network of consultants and advisers, who between them have a proven track record in the discovery and development of several leading marketed drugs, including the brain cancer drug temozolomide (Temodar, Schering Plough) and erlotinib (Tarceva, Genentech and OSI Pharmaceuticals) for treating lung and pancreatic cancer.

About The Institute of Cancer Research
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) 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. 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, for more information visit

About Cancer Research Technology
Cancer Research Technology Limited ( is a specialist commercialisation and development 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
* Cancer Research UK is the world's leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.
* The charity's groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public.
* Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years.
* Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses.
* Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat 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

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