CRT Pioneer Fund collaborates with Chroma Therapeutics to develop cancer drugs targeting the immune system

Cancer Research Technology (CRT)

The Cancer Research Technology Pioneer Fund (CPF) has announced a collaboration with Chroma Therapeutics Ltd to develop cancer drugs targeting macrophages – white blood cells – associated with tumours.

“Ultimately we hope this collaboration will produce potential new cancer drugs to improve survival for cancer patients.” -Dr Keith Blundy, chief executive of Cancer Research Technology

This investment by the CPF will accelerate the development of a promising ‘lead’ molecule – taking it from the laboratory into clinical trials for patients.  

Chroma has licensed to CPF the rights to further develop and commercialise molecules to target a key mitogen activated protein kinase (p38). Inhibiting p38 activity alters the behaviour of tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs) so that instead of driving tumour growth, the TAMS switch to destroying tumours.

Richard Bungay, chief executive of Chroma, said: “Immuno-modulation is an exciting new field of cancer research and we are delighted to be working with CPF in order to accelerate the evaluation of the unique ability of our ESM technology to target key immune system cells as a new therapeutic approach.”

The molecules have been modified to accumulate inside myeloid cells (blood cells) using Chroma’s own Esterase Sensitive Motif (ESM) technology. This technology attaches specific chemical motifs onto drugs, which are freely transported into cells. Once inside the cell, enzymes called esterases remove the motifs to create a compound that cannot easily exit the cell.  Over time, the drug accumulates in TAMS, and reprogrammes them to attack tumours.  

This is the third investment made by the CPF. It builds on initial research funded by Cancer Research UK and CRT led by Dr Thorsten Hagemann, at Queen Mary University of London, Barts Cancer Institute. This early research proved that the lead molecule, which was designed and synthesised by Chroma, can effectively switch macrophage behaviour to attack a range of cancer types, including lymphoma and pancreatic tumours in laboratory and animal studies.  

Cancer Research Technology (CRT), Cancer Research UK’s commercial arm, and the European Investment Fund (EIF) launched the £50m CPF to bridge the UK funding gap between cancer drug discovery and early treatment development and appointed Sixth Element Capital to manage the fund.

Dr Robert James, managing partner of Sixth Element Capital, said: “We’re delighted to announce this collaboration between the CPF and Chroma to progress an innovative new approach to develop cancer drugs. CPF was set up to invest in the most exciting science behind new potential techniques to treat cancer, such as this.”

Dr Keith Blundy, chief executive of Cancer Research Technology, said: “We’re extremely pleased to announce this innovative partnership, which will take forward the work done by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists and Chroma from the laboratory into clinical trials. Ultimately we hope this collaboration will produce potential new cancer drugs to improve survival for cancer patients.”

ENDS

For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8352 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059. Contact Dr Richard Bungay, Chroma Therapeutics  on 01235 829 137.