A promising new cancer drug, developed in Australia by the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), has been licensed to US pharmaceutical company Merck in a deal worth $730 million.

The challenge

Accessing high quality protein for drug trials

Developing drugs that combat cancer can make a real difference for patients both here in Australia and around the globe. Accessing high quality protein is absolutely critical in structural biology approaches to drug discovery.

The protein PRMT5 is associated with a range of cancers, including mantle cell lymphoma, lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Patients who have these types of cancers often have high levels of this protein, which is unfortunately linked to poor survival rates.

Dr Louis Lu working in CSIRO’s recombinant protein production facility used for large-scale production of antibodies.  ©CSIRO, Morgan Brown

Our response

Recombinant protein production

Using our recombinant protein production facilities, we were able to produce samples of these proteins and crystallise them for structure based drug design.

With this support, a promising new cancer drug has been developed by the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx) that binds to protein PRMT5, allowing it to target the cancerous cells. The drug, which was developed with support from the UK-based Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Technology (CRT), has been designed to inhibit the protein and has potential clinical applications in both cancer and hemoglobinopathies (non-cancer blood disorders).

The results

Uniting science and commercialisation

Under the terms of the license, Merck US will now further develop the drug, taking it to clinical trials, with a view to worldwide commercialisation. This great result for Australian science demonstrates what can be achieved when science and commercialisation capabilities unite.

In addition to applications for cancer, PRMT5 inhibitors switch on important genes in the development of blood, which could provide disease-modifying treatment options for patients with blood disorders like sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

The deal provides potentially significant financial returns, which will be shared between CRT, CTx and the Wellcome Trust, with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners including CSIRO, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

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