Scientists hope to develop inhibitors of the WNT pathway.

Merck Serono is teaming up with academic researchers in the U.K. to identify and develop small molecule inhibitors of the WNT signaling pathway as anticancer drugs. Merck’s prescription pharmaceuticals division is reportedly plowing a significant tranche of funding into the three-year program, which will boost existing investment by its partners at Cancer Research UK, the Institute for Cancer Research, and Cardiff University.

Mutations in the WNT pathway can switch it on permanently, potentially resulting in the development of cancer, explains Trevor Dale, Ph.D., lead researcher at Cardiff University. “Normal cells communicate with each other by exchanging WNT protein signals. A WNT signal will instruct a cell to grow, divide, and behave like a stem cell. Cancer mutations break the molecular switches that connect WNT proteins to cell growth. This collaboration will allow us to convert these biological insights into therapies which one day may help us treat cancer patients.”
The cross-disciplinary research will be carried out at Merck Serono, the ICR, and Cardiff University. It will combine Cardiff’s expertise in the fundamental biology of the WNT pathway with the drug discovery and development expertise of the ICR and Merck Serono, comments Julian Blagg, Ph.D., lead scientist at the ICR. “This will enable us to make real progress in targeting this exciting area and harness the enormous potential in WNT pathway therapy.”

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