An untapped source of potential cancer drug molecules is being exploited by the UK's leading cancer charity

Katharine Sanderson/London, UK

An untapped source of potential cancer drug molecules is being exploited by the UK’s leading cancer charity.

Cancer Research UK, and its commercial arm, Cancer Research Technology (CRT) have launched a clinical development partnerships scheme to sweep up drug candidates that pharmaceuticals companies have ’deprioritised’ for not showing enough commercial promise following preclinical studies. 

Under the scheme, companies will hand over molecules that once showed promise, but were never developed, and CRT will take on the clinical trials for those molecules.

Pharma and biotech firms will keep the intellectual property rights to the molecules they had shelved. After CRT has done clinical trials, the company will be given the option to take the molecule back to develop itself, or to leave it in the hands of the CRT scientists. 

CRT chief executive, Harpal Kumar hopes the scheme, costing up to ?2 million a year, will identify at least five more drug molecules annually, to add to CRT’s current portfolio of around 25 licensed molecules in the clinic. 

Kumar is optimistic. ’Hopefully we will be flooded with opportunities,’ he told Chemistry World. Kumar was keen to press the point that the project was not being developed as a money-spinner for the charity, but he would expect Cancer Research UK to receive a share of any financial return made by the companies. 

Richard Tiner, medical director of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said he saw no reason for the scheme to fail, but accepted that there could be legal hurdles surrounding intellectual property rights and contracts. ’Inevitably when you are discussing business or IP issues there will be differences of opinion,’ said Tiner.

CRT has approached around 20 leading pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and are close to deals with three. ’Three opportunities is very good at this stage,’ Victoria John, head of licensing for the clinical development partnerships scheme, told Chemistry World.

The nature of the scheme means that many of the drug candidates might be used for rare cancers, but this will not colour the decision about which drugs to develop, said Kumar. ’Just because a cancer is common, doesn’t mean it would get a higher priority than a rarer cancer.’

ABPI’s Tiner predicts that other medical charities will be watching the process carefully.