The European Molecular Biology Laboratory has spun out a new company, Elara Pharmaceuticals, to commercialise some of its discoveries in the area of cancer drugs.

Elara will concentrate on developing promising small-molecule leads from EMBL’s drug screening activities, with an initial focus on compounds that inhibit the signalling protein Aurora kinase A as well as oestrogen receptor signalling.

Five lead series of bio-active molecules with different modes of action and diverse chemical structures have already been identified from the two cancer-related signalling pathways, according to the company.

George Reid, an EMBL researcher who will serve as chief executive of the new company, said the aim is to dramatically shorten the time it takes to translate laboratory findings at the EMBL into clinical candidates.

Elara will evaluate the drugs in animal models of various types of tumours, such as lung and breast cancer, providing a “fast-track” between from bench to clinical application, according to Reid.

Other companies working on Auora kinase inhibitors include Vertex Pharmaceuticals of the USA, which has a lead compound, VX-680, in clinical trials. This project is partnered with Merck & Co. Serono of Switzerland is also active in this area, having licensed various Aurora kinase inhibitors from Rigel last October in a deal valued at up to $185 million.