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.
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Notes to editors:
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. You can read about the success of this drug here:
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: