Merck's biopharmaceutical division Merck Serono is teaming up with the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), and the Wellcome Trust, London, in a co-development and license agreement to develop anticancer drugs. The agreement builds on two independent research programs at both the ICR and Merck Serono to identify inhibitors of tankyrase, an enzyme of the poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase family. 

A team led by Chris Lord, Ph.D., and Alan Ashworth, Ph.D., at the ICR and a research group at Merck Serono will work together to progress chemical compounds that have emerged from both organizations’ tankyrase inhibitor programs toward clinical development. Merck Serono will take over full responsibility for the selected clinical development candidate at the end of the collaboration period.

Merck Serono and the Wellcome Trust will be jointly funding the program. The existing drug discovery program at the ICR is currently supported by a Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery Award. 

“With this partnership, we aim to harness the already-well-advanced tankyrase programs at both ICR and Merck Serono and hope to ultimately translate these in to novel treatment options for cancer patients,” Andree Blaukat, Ph.D., head of the Translational Innovation Platform Oncology at Merck Serono, said in a statement. “We will build on a joint compound base of potent tankyrase inhibitors and will leverage both sites’ scientific knowledge about the ‘Wnt pathway’ that plays a major role in signal transduction for tumor growth.”

“Working with Merck Serono will allow us to jointly accelerate our program with the aim to ultimately make tankyrase inhibitors available to cancer patients,” Dr. Lord added.

Merck Serono has worked with ICR before: Back in 2009, it partnered with ICR, Cancer Research UK, and Cardiff University to identify and develop small molecule inhibitors of the Wnt signaling pathway as anticancer drugs. This deal was extended last year, granting Merck Serono the rights to develop molecules discovered through the four-year research collaboration; at the same time, ICR, Cancer Research Technology (the commercial arm of CRUK), and Merck Serono signed a two-year major collaboration to progress the existing compounds toward candidates for clinical trials and design further molecules to target the Wnt signaling pathway.

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