Basilea Pharmaceutica has entered an agreement with a consortium of U.K.-based academic organizations and funders to develop a new class of cancer drugs designed to block several key cancer-causing proteins at once.

The group, which includes the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research Technology (CRT), and the University of Manchester, has granted Basilea exclusive global rights to develop, manufacture, and commercialize panRAF inhibitors. The new drug class originated from research at ICR funded by Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

“The available data show that this novel class of panRAF inhibitors are active in tumors, which have developed resistance to currently available RAF kinase inhibitors and have the potential to offer new treatment options for melanoma as well as additional cancer indications,” said Laurenz Kellenberger, Ph.D., CSO at Basilea.

The consortium said it plans to initially lead Phase I clinical development after which Basilea will take over responsibility. If the development of the drugs is successful, the consortium will receive an upfront payment and potential milestone payments and royalties.

According to Basilea, the drugs can potentially be used where a patient’s tumor has developed resistance to existing drugs targeting the BRAF protein, which is mutated in a range of cancers including 50% of melanomas and 10% of bowel cancers. The drugs target both BRAF and the growth pathways that the cells come to rely on when they become resistant, the company said.

“Resistance to existing cancer drugs can be a tragedy for patients. By targeting multiple cancer-causing proteins, these new panRAF inhibitors could help overcome this problem and have the potential to be of great value in the clinic,” said Richard Seabrook, Ph.D., head of business development at the Wellcome Trust.

A Phase I trial is expected to start later this year at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester. The trial will be funded by the Wellcome Trust, the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at the Royal Marsden and the ICR, and the Christie charity. 

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