Cancer Research UK and CRT sign deal with Centella Therapeutics, inc to launch clinical development of radiotherapy-enhancing drug

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK and Cancer Research Technology – the charity's development and commercialisation arm – have partnered with Centella Therapeutics, Inc. of Palo Alto, California, to develop, manufacture and trial a promising new drug, CEN-209 in cancer patients with solid tumours.

CEN-209, discovered at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre and exclusively licensed to Centella from UniServices Ltd of New Zealand, is designed to provide benefit when used together with radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat solid tumours. CEN-209 is the seventh drug candidate to enter Cancer Research UK's Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) scheme.

CEN-209 has the potential to destroy the areas of tumours which are low in oxygen – or hypoxic. Tumour cells become hypoxic because the blood vessels supplying them with nutrients and oxygen are often weak, twisted and ineffective due to the rapid growth of the tumour.

Cancer cells that are hypoxic are more resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy and often survive such treatment. By destroying the hypoxic part of tumours with CEN-209 in parallel to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it is hoped that this combination treatment will be more effective.

CDP is a joint initiative between Cancer Research UK’s Drug Development Office and Cancer Research Technology, to develop promising anti-cancer agents from companies that are not able to take them through early phase clinical trials themselves. The CDP scheme allows companies to retain the background rights to their programmes while enabling Cancer Research UK to take on early development work to assess if there is a potential benefit to cancer patients. Two drugs from the CDP initiative are already in early phase trials.

CEN-209 is currently in pre-clinical development. Under the terms of the partnership, Cancer Research UK’s Drug Development Office will complete pre-clinical development of the drug and take it through the first Phase I clinical trial, which will be conducted through the charity’s Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres.

After the Phase I trial Centella will have the exclusive option to buy back the clinical trial data and conduct further clinical studies towards approval of CEN-209. If Centella does not exercise its option, the rights to the programme will be transferred to Cancer Research Technology to secure an alternative partner with the goal of making it possible for the drug to reach cancer patients.

Dr Thorsten Melcher, president of Centella, said: “We are very pleased to work in this public-private partnership with the experts from Cancer Research UK to advance CEN-209.

“The drug development experience of Cancer Research UK is very well respected and critical to evaluate the potential of CEN-209 for attacking hypoxic tumours for which few effective treatments are available today.

“Centella is particularly excited to launch this important project that may make radiotherapy even more effective, and to do it in the year that the United Kingdom has dedicated to raising awareness for radiotherapy.”

2011 was launched as the year of radiotherapy to help raise awareness of the treatment and highlight the progress made over the last century. 

Dr Ian Walker, senior licensing manager at Cancer Research UK’s Drug Development Office, said: “Through this exciting partnership, we are taking a completely new drug which could treat a range of cancer types into clinical trials –bringing new hope for thousands of future cancer patients.

“We hope that the drug will enhance the effectiveness of radiotherapy, which is an incredibly important way to treat cancer as more than 40 per cent of cancer patients in the UK have radiotherapy as part of their treatment. We hope that finding new ways to increase its effectiveness through new drugs – such as CEN-209 – will help improve survival from a range of cancers.”

Dr Nigel Blackburn, director of drug development at Cancer Research UK’s Drug Development Office, said: “The further development of this drug may not have been possible without the CDP initiative – which shows how we work with industry to develop new treatments – and we hope to continue to develop partnerships with the ultimate aim to license new treatments.”

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

CEN-209 was rationally designed and preclinically validated as an improved analogue of the hypoxia-targeted prodrug tirapazamine.

Year of radiotherapy

Marie Curie won her second Nobel Prize for her work on radium in 1911 - exactly 100 years ago – and was a leading pioneer in radiation as a cancer therapy. 2011 was launched as the year of radiotherapy to help raise awareness of the treatment and highlight the progress made over the last century.

The awareness initiative is being coordinated by the National Radiotherapy Awareness Initiative - a group of organisations who are working to improve awareness of, and access to, radiotherapy services. Members include: The Royal College of Radiologists, The Society and College of Radiographers, Cancer Research UK, the Institute of Physics & Engineering in Medicine (IPEM), the NHS and representatives from all UK countries.