A consortium of seven Australian research organisations, two local companies and Cancer Research Technology Limited (CRT), the London-based development and commercialisation arm of Cancer Research UK, is in final negotiations to set up the Cooperative Research Centre for Cancer Therapeutics (CRC-CT) in Melbourne, Victoria state.

The aim is to create a world-class translational research organisation dedicated to the discovery and development of novel small molecules for targeted cancer therapies. The for-profit venture has funding for seven years, with the founding bodies providing A$111.5 million in total and a further A$37.7 million coming from the Australian federal government.

By bringing together expertise in cancer biology, translational oncology and drug discovery, and drawing on CRT’s track record in developing and commercialising cancer therapies, the CRC-CT hopes to optimise the potential of the more than A$150 million invested by Australia in oncology research each year. Research and development programmes will focus on disrupting blood vessels that feed cancers (tumour vasculature), preventing metastasis of cancer cells, adjunct treatments to minimise the side-effects of chemotherapy/radiotherapy, and overcoming tumour resistance to chemotherapies.

Trend to outsourcing

The Australian venture is predicated on the increasing trend to outsourcing of early-stage drug development by the pharmaceutical industry and the parallel emergence of integrated centres for drug discovery, design and development at academic or research institutions such as the University of Dundee in Scotland, Harvard Medical School in the US or the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

More specifically, the founders note, Australia accounts for 2.5% of medical research worldwide but for less than 0.1% of global preclinical drug development. A shortage of resources for early therapeutic development in Australia, with inadequate support or investment from funding agencies, fund mangers and pharmaceutical multinationals, means the country “has not maximised exploitation of the small-molecule pharmaceutical age”, they comment.

By leveraging key infrastructure investments already made in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, the CRC-CT participants believe they can secure a “translation bridge” and a sustainable route to the international market for publicly funded oncology research in Australia.

Among the research organisations participating in the venture are CSIRO Molecular Health Technologies, Griffith University, the Peter McCallum Cancer Institute and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI). Commercial input comes from CRT, Chemicon (Millipore) and Bionomics Limited. Of the two Australian companies, Chemicon specialises in research reagents, biomarkers and drug discovery technologies, while Bionomics will contribute validated biological targets, its Multicore proprietary chemistry platform and its Angene platform for assessing vascular targeting agents.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Cancer Therapeutics will have its headquarters at the WEHI Biotechnology Centre in Bundoora, Victoria. By Peter Mansell