Investigators plan to combine expertise in drug discovery, artificial intelligence (AI), and experimental cancer models and platforms in a new program to design precision cancer drugs. Under an academic and commercial collaboration between The Institute of Cancer Research, London, the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), Barcelona, and Vivan Therapeutics, a multi-disciplinary team will seek to create drugs that can counteract drug resistance.

The scientists will have a particular focus on creating therapeutics that could target KRAS, a cancer-driving protein. Few currently approved drugs target KRAS, and patients usually become resistant within months to those that are available.

The group at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), led by Paul Workman, PhD, who has long been interested small-molecule cancer drugs, and Albert Antolin, PhD, at IDIBELL, who is developing new strategies based on big data and AI to power drug design. They will work with Vivan Therapeutics to create more effective targeted cancer drugs that could be less prone to the problem of resistance.

Design and develop small molecule therapeutics

The research team aims to design and develop small molecules that could simultaneously target multiple weaknesses in cancers with debilitating mutations faults in KRAS. Vivan Therapeutics has developed a collection of fruit fly models that have such mutations in KRAS, either alone or in combination with other or similar genetic mutations that drive cancer growth. The company has also developed a technology platform to enable testing of cancer therapies at a high-throughput level.

Antolin will use new computational methods to identify promising compounds that could target both KRAS and other cancer-driving proteins.

Workman will bring his experience in drug discovery and potentially test small molecules discovered in this project on cancer cells in his laboratory before testing the most promising compounds in fly models developed by Vivan.

“Our goal is to find safe and effective new drugs that are less likely to evoke resistance than current drugs by targeting multiple weaknesses in cancer at once and that ultimately benefit cancer patients by giving them new treatment options that last longer than those that are currently available,” explains Workman.

“I am really excited about this multidisciplinary, industry-academia collaboration because the partners bring in very different and complementary expertise to tackle an important challenge that could make a big difference to many patients with cancers that harbor KRAS mutations,” adds Antolin.

“We are thrilled to work with the Antolin and Workman labs to pioneer new therapies for hard to treat cancers,” says Laura Towart, CEO of Vivan Therapeutics. “We utilize our in vivo high throughput drug screening platform to identify combinations of approved drugs to personalize patient treatment today, but we are also committed to developing therapies of the future.”

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