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Oncology research hits the Outback
November 2009
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author


MELBOURNE, Australia—In a multi-faceted process involving corporations, a U.K.-based charity and academia, Cancer Therapeutics CRC Pty. Ltd., (CTx) will team with Duke University in North Carolina to discover and develop new drugs for the treatment of many forms of cancer based on research undertaken by the laboratory of Duke professor Patrick Casey.  
According to CTx CEO Tony Evans, joining hands with an institution the caliber of the Duke Medical Center represents a major expansion of the company's capabilities in partnering with overseas cancer researchers in order to source the most promising novel targets for CTx's drug discovery pipeline.  
Professor Casey and his team at Duke have been investigating lipid signaling pathways and the role of lipid metabolizing enzymes in cancer for many years and have developed a series of promising new inhibitors of these enzymes. CTx has an exclusive license for these inhibitors and will initiate a drug development program to bring these early-stage compounds toward the clinic.   
Guy Heathers, chief business officer at CTx, stresses that developing a broad-based expertise in cancer drug discovery is his company's mission, and they are looking at Casey's program as one interesting novel target for new cancer drugs among many which with they are involved. CTx is itself the result of collaboration between a number of Australian research institutions and corporations with the goal of cancer drug discovery and development and is funded under the Australian government's CRC "scheme," Heathers says.  
"This program is a federal Australian government's scheme, going about 15 years now, which seeks to stimulate collaborations between research groups in Australia and industry. It funds about five to 10 projects per year to the tune of around 15 to 30 million AUD, over a seven-year period. So these are quite large grants and underpin some of Australia's major research initiatives," Heathers says.  
The Duke collaboration was facilitated by CTx's commercial partner in the U.K., Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and its U.S. subsidiary, Cancer Research Technology Inc., principally under the direction of Larry Steranka at CRT in Boston.   "This office gets in contact with a lot of academic cancer research institutes in the U.S. to help commercialize their research and they made the preliminary contacts with Duke, which we then followed up," Heathers states.  
He notes that Cancer Research Technology is wholly owned by the U.K. charity, Cancer Research UK, which seeks to commercialize academic cancer research into the biotech/pharma industry. It has been in operation since 1984 and has "a couple of drugs on the market," Heathers notes, the major drug being Temozolamide. It also has its own drug discovery and development group in a parallel operation to CTx in Australia working on up to 15 projects per year.
CTx was launched just over two years ago, with the objective of taking novel or relatively novel molecular targets or early-stage compounds from research institutes or biotech companies in Australia, or overseas, undertaking hit discovery, hit-to-lead development and lead optimization to produce high-quality, preclinical trial candidates for further development and commercialization. Although it has "no major achievements" to date, CTx is working on a number of drug discovery projects.
Heathers adds that the company has brought together more than 60 scientists, many of whom have Big Pharma experience, in what is probably Australia's largest collection of drug discovery expertise and experience with state-of-the-art facilities at a number of locations throughout Australia and approximately 140 million AUD in funding and in-kind commitments over a seven-year period.
Code: E110922



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