Cancer Research UK’s commercialization and development subsidiary has launched a partnership with Medivir to develop a new class of cancer drugs, the partners said today. The value of the collaboration was not disclosed.

Cancer Research Technology (CRT) and Medivir agreed to conduct a two-year research program to optimize and develop small molecules targeting ADAM8. The cell surface protein has been linked to tumor survival, cell invasion, and metastasis.

Treatments based on ADAM8 inhibitors have shown promise for treating different cancers, especially breast and pancreatic cancer. This is thought to be due to the protein’s involvement in cell adhesion, cell migration, inflammation and growth of blood vessels. High levels of ADAM8 have been linked with more aggressive tumors including those in pancreatic, brain, prostate, lung, head and neck, and kidney cancers.

Inhibition of ADAM8 in mice with pancreatic cancer, for example, prevented the spread of the disease, shrunk tumors and significantly extended lifespan—validating the protein as a target for pancreatic cancer therapy, researchers reported in a study published January 28 in Nature Communications.

And last year, researchers concluded that ADAM8 inhibition represented a promising novel target for treatment of triple-negative breast cancers, which currently lack targeted therapies and are more likely to be fatal than other breast cancers.

Medivir will receive an exclusive, global license to research, develop, manufacture, and commercialize ADAM8 inhibitor drugs. In return, CRT will receive an upfront payment and future success milestones, as well as royalties on sales to be shared with the academic collaborators.

Research will be led by Professor Jörg Bartsch, Ph.D., head of the TransMIT-Project Division for Research in Neuro-Oncology at TransMIT GmbH, located at Marburg University, in collaboration with Medivir. He served as corresponding author for the study validating ADAM8 as a drug target.

Professor Bartsch previously worked at King’s College London, whose IP and Licensing team filed the initial patent application for ADAM8 inhibitor drugs. Further proof of concept studies took place at King’s College, with funding from Cancer Research UK.