The UK’s Cambridge Antibody Technology is expanding its cancer portfolio by acquiring the investigational drugs GCR-3888 and GCR-8015 from US group Genencor, a subsidiary of Danisco, for up to $16 million dollars.

The move, which signals the firm’s intensified focus on cancer research, should substantially raise CAT’s profile in this field on the other side of the Atlantic, as the group has set up its first US site in Palo Alto, California, to house 10 key former Genencor staff it has hired to manage the development of these new programmes.

Successful development of these candidates, which were discovered and initially developed by the USA’s National Cancer Institute, could really put CAT on the map. The efficacy of GCR-3888 has already been demonstrated in a Phase I clinical trial as a potential treatment for hairy cell leukaemia, for which it is currently being tested in a Phase II study. GCR-8015, an optimised version of GCR-3888, is in preclinical development as a potential treatment for B-cell malignancies including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Peter Chambre, chief executive of the firm, commented: "The acquisition of these product candidates is a significant step forward, accelerating the development of our proprietary pipeline. In particular, they signal our intention to focus our proprietary research and development activities in oncology indications, where we believe the opportunities are greatest for a company of CAT's resources and technological capabilities. In addition, the transaction has enabled CAT to establish its first presence in the USA."

CAT intends to file an Investigational New Drug application for GCR-8015 in various B-cell malignancies after a period of manufacturing development, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2006.

Dr Patrick Round, Vice President Development of CAT, commented: "Despite the progress that has been made in treating patients with these forms of cancer over the past decade, there remains a significant unmet medical need for those patients who are either refractory to the current treatments or who unfortunately relapse. GCR-3888 has demonstrated the potential opportunity from utilising this immunotoxin approach in HCL and we look forward to exploring the mechanism in a wider range of B-cell malignancies, including NHL and CLL, and to working in collaboration with the NCI."