Cambridge fertile territory for new drug blockbusters
One of Cambridge’s most successful BioMedTech entrepreneurs believes the cluster is fertile territory to produce globally game-changing medical treatments on the back of new drug discovery – potentially with more blockbuster drugs in the pipeline.
Professor Steve Jackson’s own company Mission Therapeutics is in pole position to lead the revolution from the front and his former business KuDOS Pharma – acquired by AstraZeneca – has already given birth to Lynparza, which is the thoroughbred in AZ’s potential blockbuster stable.
A blockbuster drug is one that generates annual sales of at least $1 billion. Technology developed by CAT (Cambridge Antibody Technology) was used to create adalimumab, the first fully human antibody blockbuster drug; CAT was also acquired by AstraZeneca.
Now Lynparza is heading in the same direction, Professor Jackson believes. AZ reported with its Q3 results this week that Lynparza US sales alone were up nine per cent in Q3. Lynparza achieved sales of $216 million in 2016.
In outlining its potential, Prof Jackson referenced July’s mega-deal where Merck agreed to pay AstraZeneca up to $8.5 billion as part of a global pact to co-develop and co-commercialise Lynparza™ (olaparib) for ovarian cancer and late-stage investigational MAPK/ERK kinase 1/2 (MEK 1/2) inhibitor selumetinib for multiple cancer indications.
The drug was approved by the FDA in 2014 as monotherapy for germline BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer in patients who have previously received three or more lines of chemotherapy.
Prof. Jackson said: “Recently it has become clear that there is headroom for further cancer treatments harnessing Lynparza, other than ovarian cancer. The FDA recently fast-tracked its potential in the area of prostate cancer while its possible use to treat breast cancers also appears to be gaining pace.
“While this may well make AstraZeneca a bit of money, more importantly it promises to extend a lot of people’s lives. Having met some sufferers recently it really brings home what it means to patients to have a potential cure on the horizon.”
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot believes that the search for new blockbuster drugs will transform the business, not least by decreasing reliance on legacy plays that have been outstripped by a stream of fresh scientific discoveries – many emanating from Cambridge. Other Big Pharma players also have their eyes and coffers trained on Cambridge for the same reason.
Prof. Jackson says AstraZeneca, aided by its biologics division MedImmune, has a lot of excellent science in its wider locker in the small molecule arena, with DNA repair plays especially active.
Some of this science owes its roots to KuDOS and AstraZeneca has taken three or four significant plays forwards from that source to the cusp of clinical trials. “So there are several other shots on goal open to the company,” he says.
Prof. Jackson’s own company Mission Therapeutics is also at the heart of multiple activity as it advances development of first-in-class treatments targeting deubiquitylating enzymes (DUBs).
This group of proteins has been implicated in the development of various conditions including cancer, neurodegenerative syndromes, muscle wasting and infectious diseases. Parkinson’s is a prime target. Inflammation is another potential application area.
Last year Mission raised £60 million to invest in its drug discovery and development programme and the solution has already been described by world leading researchers as the ‘next kinase area’.
Prof. Jackson believes the cash will see Mission through to the clinic and stresses that the company already has 17 filed chemistry patents across a range of different DUBs.
He also revealed that Mission was talking to a number of major Pharma companies about potential collaborations to maximise the potential of its portfolio.
“We are trying to pick the lowest hanging fruit but it is not hanging particularly low; therefore, with so many areas of potential progress for our technology we think it best to work with significant partners to maximise the portfolio as a whole.
“I hope Mission will still be going as a standalone entity in 10 years time and grow into a world-leading player but it may be the board is tempted by an acquisition along the way.”
Prof. Jackson revealed that he had another business hatching in stealth of which more details should emerge in the New Year.
In general terms he felt Cambridge, with its globally renowned pedigree for scientific and medical discovery and its world-class talent pool, would remain a magnet for investment from global BioMedTech investors and Big Pharma. But he does not believe it is yet to reach its optimum potential.
“We have seen some incredible investment here in recent years by the Americans, Chinese and Japanese in hi-tech and MedTech but I believe there is a lot more to come for Cambridge. It is still undersubscribed in comparison to the East and West Coasts of America, for example.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Professor Steve Jackson