Researchers from Cancer Research Technology (CRT), the commercial arm of Cancer Research UK (CRUK), and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London will collaborate with Johnson & Johnson unit Janssen Biotech on research they hope will result in a potential new multiple myeloma drug.

CRUK and Janssen will together fund up to 25 scientists through the collaboration, which will focus on identifying molecules and developing potential drugs shown to block a key protein on the unfolded protein response (UPR) pathway, a cell signalling route.

The UPR enables helps cells to adapt to stresses caused by unfolded or misfolded proteins, since the cells would otherwise die. In the case of myeloma, however, its cells survive notwithstanding that its cells produce an excess of proteins, since the cells have developed mechanisms to cope with that stress. “The researchers therefore aim to block these mechanisms to trigger myeloma cell death,” the collaboration partners said in a statement.

The research effort could also produce drugs for diseases other than myeloma, since a number of other cancers also rely heavily on the UPR; so, although this work will initially concentrate on myeloma, any new drugs developed may also be useful for other cancers.

“Multiple myeloma patients urgently need new treatments and we are confident this exciting collaboration gives us a good chance of delivering for them,” professor Paul Workman, Ph.D., director of the ICR’s Cancer Research UK Therapeutics Unit and deputy chief executive of ICR, said in the statement.

The collaboration with Janssen is the first between the company and CRT. A Janssen team will work with teams at ICR led by Ian Collins, Ph.D., reader in medicinal chemistry at CRUK’s Cancer Therapeutics Unit, and by Faith Davies, M.D., of the unit’s Division of Molecular Pathology.

Janssen will provide “some” of the funding to support the research at the ICR, will pay future milestones and royalties, and will lead on clinical development of any potential drugs, the partners said. Further details were not disclosed. 

Last year, Janssen agreed to an exclusive worldwide license from Genmab for the CD38 antibody daratumumab for multiple myeloma. In return, Janssen paid Genmab $55 million up-front, while Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. took an $80-million stake in the Danish-owned biotech company, and Janssen agreed to up to $1 billion in payments tied to development, regulatory, and sales milestones.

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