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Investment in novel agent targeting breast cancer

A team of researchers from Cardiff University have received financial backing from a UK based biotechnology company to develop a novel compound found to inhibit the spread of malignant breast cancer cells.  

The vast majority of deaths from cancer result from the progressive spread of the disease to vital organs, known as metastasis.  In breast cancer up to 12,000 patients a year develop this form of the disease, often several years after initial diagnosis of a breast lump.  Despite great improvements in therapy of early stage breast cancer, the current therapeutic options for patients with late stage metastatic disease are limited.   There is therefore a clear unmet clinical need to identify new drugs to reverse or at least to slow down disease progression.

Dr Richard Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in the School of Biosciences, leads a team of researchers within the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute investigating the causes of cancer spread.

In a recent series of studies they identified an unexpected role for a known oncogene, Bcl3, in metastatic breast cancer.   “We showed that the suppression of this gene reduced the spread of cancer by more than 80%”.  Dr Clarkson said.  “Our next goal was to then find a way to suppress Bcl3 pharmacologically”.

The Clarkson lab teamed up with two researchers from the School of Pharmacy, Dr Andrea Brancale and Dr Andrew Westwell, to develop small chemical inhibitors of Bcl3.  Computer aided modeling of how Bcl3 works inside the cell allowed the collaborative groups to identify a ‘pocket’ on the surface of Bcl3 that is essential for its function.  By screening virtual compounds that could fit inside this pocket, using state-of-the-art computer software, they identified a chemical agent that potently inhibits Bcl3.  “When this agent was given to mice with metastatic disease the drug completely inhibited the development of metastatic tumours”.    

With a patent application pending, this compound is now under license with Tiziana Pharmaceuticals, a UK based biotechnology start-up company established by healthcare entrepreneur Gabriele Cerrone. Mr. Cerrone is Chairman and Founder of BioVitas Capital Ltd., an international biotech incubator with an extensive background in funding and developing early stage discoveries in the biotech sector. As a result of this investment, work is now ongoing to progress this agent to clinical trials.  “This business partnership is an important step towards the realization of this compound as a therapeutic agent. With this additional funding we aim to establish the scope of this compound for the treatment of metastatic disease in a variety of tumour types in addition to breast cancer patients”.