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Multi-million licensing deal for new cancer-fighting compounds

Cancer. Everyone knows someone who’s battling it, beaten it, or sadly succumbed to it. And it always seems to stay one step ahead of a cure.

To make successful drugs, researchers need to design new molecules that have just the right balance of chemical, pharmacological and biopharmaceutical factors. Falling under Monash’s platform technology network, the MTRP, the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation (CDCO) provided biopharmaceutical expertise that was  invaluable to a collaborative project team led by the CRC for Cancer Therapeutics. Collectively, this team secured a major licensing deal related to drugs that shut down ‘PRMT5’ – a protein implicated in many types of cancer.

PRMT5, otherwise known as protein arginine methyltransferase 5, helps to regulate genes such as p53. When p53 works properly, it helps to prevent cancer. But when it doesn’t, things go wrong: in 9 out of 10 cancers, p53 is the gene at fault. It’s no surprise that p53 and its associated genes and proteins are a major focus for cancer researchers around the world.

The CRC for Cancer Therapeutics wants to design drugs that stop PRMT5 in its tracks. If PRMT5 can be inhibited, then faulty p53 and other cancer-causing genes can begin to work properly again. And, it’s not just cancer sufferers that could benefit. PRMT5 also regulates genes that develop blood cells – so blocking PRMT5 could treat blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

The rights to develop PRMT5 inhibitors have been licensed to pharmaceutical company MSD, which will be responsible for research and development. Australian industries will receive an upfront payment of US$15 million, with potential payments of up to US$0.5 billion when other milestones are hit. All payments will be shared between the CRC for Cancer Therapeutics and its Australian research partners, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Technology.

‘This is a great result for Australian science and the CRC program as a whole, and demonstrates what can be achieved when science and commercialisation capabilities unite,’ says Dr Warwick Tong, Chief Executive of the for Cancer Therapeutics CRC.

The lucrative licensing deal – believed to be one of the largest ever made for a drug target in Australia – demonstrates the benefits of the open-access, centrally managed MTRP in contributing to multidisciplinary programs. Medicinal chemists, biologists and pharmaceutical scientists came together from collaborating institutions to form the team that ultimately landed the deal.