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How we're commercialising a pioneering cancer drug

In advance of industry conference BIO-Europe, Henry French speaks to the Enterprise Unit’s Dr Toby Richardson about one of the most promising commercialisation opportunities in our partnering portfolio.

A high magnification image of ovarian clear cell carcinoma (photo: Nephron)

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, will be taking one of the most exciting partnering opportunities in its portfolio to the upcoming BIO-Europe conference.

The opportunity is to work alongside the ICR and BTG PLC in taking a highly promising experimental drug for ovarian cancer into a phase II clinical trial.

The new targeted drug was discovered at the ICR and has been generating great excitement since initial results were announced of a phase I trial at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual conference in Chicago in June.

The drug doesn’t yet have a formal name, and is currently known as BTG945. It is a first-in-class targeted therapeutic which uses the alpha folate receptor (αFR) to selectively enter tumour cells, and in the trial seven of 10 women with ovarian cancer which expressed αFR responded. 

The research team has developed a companion biomarker test that measures levels of αFR.

At ASCO, the drug was highlighted by the UK’s Department for International Trade as one of the UK’s best biopharma assets available for licensing or partnering.

Dr Toby Richardson, Associate Director of Business Development at the ICR, said: “The trial showed clear evidence of tumour response in patients who are poorly served by current treatment options, as well as establishing a safe dose for larger trials.

Dr Richardson added: “Progression-free survival in platinum-resistant high-grade ovarian cancer, which accounts for around 80 per cent of deaths, is three to four months. The upcoming phase II study will hopefully help to establish this drug as standard of care for a significant proportion of these women, and enable us to seek accelerated regulatory approval.”


The BTG945 programme is a typical example of how researchers at the ICR discover and develop innovative new drugs in collaboration with industry and by working closely with our colleagues at The Royal Marsden.

Dr Richardson said: “Our commercial partners bring very valuable insight and expertise to our research programmes, particularly when they share our focus on innovation. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to transform academic discoveries into new cancer treatments used in the clinic without them.”

Specialist healthcare company BTG has been on board for much of the history of the discovery and development of BTG945, which has been designed to target cancer cells expressing αFR.

The company owns the intellectual property for the drug, and has exclusive rights to the new biomarker test for use with it that identifies women with folate-expressing tumours. BTG continues to work very closely with the ICR on many levels, not least its commercialisation, to successfully progress the new drug rapidly through clinical development and onto the market.

The same partnership led to the discovery and development of abiraterone, which has extended the lives of hundreds of thousands of men with prostate cancer worldwide, as well as generating more than $2billon in commercial revenue so far.

“One of the advantages for new investors in this particular programme is the opportunity to be involved in an already successful partnership,” said Dr Richardson. 

“Alongside BTG, there’s also the opportunity to work with Dr Udai Banerji – who has led the successful phase I study – and with Dr Susana Banerjee’s team at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, who are world-leading specialists in the treatment of patients with ovarian cancer and other gynaecological cancers and would lead the phase II study.”


In November, Dr Richardson is due to travel to Europe’s biggest annual biopharmaceutical conference, BIO-Europe, in Berlin to meet with possible partners as the ICR seeks to secure a partner in the next few months.

“It’s an exciting drug to be working with because it’s rare for signs of effectiveness to be this clear so early in drug development, and there is such a clear need for a new treatment in this patient population,” said Dr Richardson.

“I’m looking forward to picking up again with discussions that began at BIO in San Francisco earlier this year, and to starting conversations with new possible partners about the BTG945 programme and the range of other commercial opportunities we have that have arisen from research at the ICR.”

The ICR currently has a number of partnering and licensing opportunities and any member of the Enterprise Unit would be pleased to review these with potential commercial collaborators.

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Toby Richardson Enterprise Unit BTG945 CT900
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