Boehringer Ingelheim is expanding its efforts in oncology and has signed a deal with fellow German firm Priaxon.

The collaboration covers R&D of mdm2/p53 inhibitors for the treatment of cancer and Boehringer is making “significant upfront and near-term payments” to support “further discovery efforts”. In addition, Priaxon will be eligible to receive 86 million euros in milestone payments, plus royalties on potential future sales.

The firms say it has been shown that in tumours with wild-type p53, the restoration of p53 tumor-suppressive functions can be achieved by blocking a cellular interaction of mdm21 and the aforementioned protein. They go on to say that this “may reactivate the ‘genome guardian’ function of p53 and is therefore an interesting approach for treating various oncological indications”.

The companies will work jointly “to identify and advance candidates into pre-clinical development” after which Boehringer will take over responsibility for the potential cancer treatments arising from the collaboration.

Wolfgang Rettig, senior vice president of research at Boehringer, said the discovery of p53 and its protein-protein interactions “has been a milestone in cancer biology, yet finding potent inhibitors of these interactions has been challenging”. He added that “we see a significant potential for this treatment modality in patients with locally advanced or metastatic cancers for whom available treatment options are not satisfactory”.

Boehringer has been increased its research efforts in oncology over the past few years and has a couple of compounds in late-stage trials – Tovok, a tumour growth factor inhibitor, and the triple angiokinase inhibitor Vargatef for non-small-cell lung cancer.