Cancer Research Technology, the commercial arm of Cancer Research UK, has signed a license agreement to grant antibody medicines company, Affitech A/S, (NASDAQ OMX: AFFI), exclusive rights to a CRT patent application and relevant know how to develop and use therapeutic antibodies that recognise and block the function of CCR4, a protein found on certain tumours – including early and late stage cervical cancer and oesophageal cancer.
Under the license, Affitech will continue to develop its existing anti-CCR4 antibody program AT008, which is currently in pre-clinical development, and will be able to use any candidate identified in that program in the future for the licensed diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
Cancer Research UK-funded scientist, Professor Frances Balkwill, based at Queen Mary University of London was first to discover that CCR4 is present on cancer cells in various solid tumours, and was a promising target for new drugs to treat a range of cancer types. Cancer Research Technology holds a patent application based on this research and Cancer Research UK has funded further research to prove that CCR4 is a valuable therapeutic target.
Coinciding with the license deal, Cancer Research Technology, Affitech and Queen Mary University of London have also signed a collaborative agreement to provide pre-clinical validation for Affitech’s AT008 programme – with the aim of proving its potential as a new drug programme to treat cancer – using techniques developed in Professor Balkwill’s laboratory. This programme will be fully funded by Affitech.
CCR4 is one of 18 known chemokine receptors – proteins which bind molecules called chemokines to trigger various cellular responses. Chemokine receptors are generally present on the surface of immune cells. But a few – now known to include CCR4 – are also found on the surface of tumour cells, while not present on healthy cells. One of the roles of chemokine receptors in tumor progression is thought to be to evade immune responses, increase the ability of cancer cells to move from the original tumour and to spread to other parts of the body.
Developing antibodies to interfere with CCR4-expressing cells, such as under the AT008 programme, could provide a new highly targeted treatment to block cancer growth and spread for a range of solid tumour types.
Dr Phil L’Huillier, Cancer Research Technology’s director of business development, said: “This important license deal combines Cancer Research UK’s world-class research expertise in the exciting area of chemokine research with the development of Affitech’s existing AT008 antibody programme. This opens new avenues of research and development for potential therapies which could increase survival for patients with a range of cancer types.”
Alexander Duncan, Affitech’s chief scientific officer, said: “We are delighted to have attracted the interest and participation of an outstanding investigator at the forefront of cancer research. Professor Balkwill is at the leading edge of understanding cancer biology and will be a huge asset to our anti-cancer programme.
“She is a world leader in understanding the role of immunology in cancer, particularly the chemokine system. We have embarked on an ambitious programme to understand potential mechanisms of action of the anti-CCR4 antibody, AT008, and its application in solid tumours.
“This agreement and research collaboration will extend our capabilities to advance our lead therapeutic program GPCR targeted AT008/CCR4 significantly.”
Under the license, Cancer Research Technology will receive an initial signature payment, as well as pre-clinical and clinical development milestone payments, and royalties on sales of CCR4 antibodies developed by Affitech.
Cancer Research Technology retains rights to the therapeutic use in solid tumours of antibodies against CCL17 and CCL22 – the chemokine molecules which bind to CCR4 receptor to trigger cellular responses.
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