The partnership will establish small molecule candidates with a view to treating cancer

Astex Pharmaceuticals, a company focused on the development of novel small molecule therapeutics for oncology and diseases of the central nervous system, has announced a global collaboration with MSD.

The aim of the partnership is to establish small molecule candidates with activity towards a tumour suppressor protein for treating cancer.

Astex, under the terms of the agreement, will incorporate its fragment-based drug discovery platform to develop compounds targeting multiple forms of the ‘p53’ tumour suppressor protein, while also providing MSD with lead compounds for further optimisation and preclinical development.

Meanwhile, MSD is granted an exclusive international license to study, develop and commercialise candidates arising from the collaboration.

Harren Jhoti, president and chief executive officer at Astex, was encouraged by the partnership: “Astex is applying its fragment-based drug discovery capability to design and generate small molecule modulators tailored to a wide range of potentially important therapeutic targets. This new alliance builds on our existing productive collaboration and allows us to combine our expertise and assets with MSD’s wide-ranging oncology capabilities.”

George Addona, senior vice president, discovery and translational medicine at MSD, added: “At MSD we are committed to driving innovation with the goal of improving outcomes for patients with cancer. We look forward to building on our collaboration with the Astex team to advance this potentially impactful area of oncology research.”

Astex will receive an upfront payment of $35m and is also eligible for milestone payments linked with the achievement of preclinical, clinical, regulatory and sales milestones. These will come to around $500m per program, as well as tiered royalties on sales of products emerging from the partnership.

Ultimately, MSD will assume responsibility for funding all future research and development of candidates, in addition to the commercialisation of products globally.