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Cancer Research UK, Biotech Partner on Drug Discovery

Illustration of ubiquitin molecule

Illustration of ubiquitin molecule (Rogerdodd – Wikimedia Commons)

Forma Therapeutics in Watertown, Massachusetts and Cancer Research Technology Ltd. in London are collaborating on finding drug candidates that target the regulators of protein levels in cells, a key factor in a number of diseases, including cancer. Cancer Research Technology is the for-profit commercialization subsidiary of the foundation Cancer Research UK. Financial amounts to be paid and intellectual property aspects of the partnership were not disclosed.

The collaboration focuses on enzymes that control levels of the protein ubiquitin found in most human cells. Ubiquitin binds to other proteins and labels them for degradation and recycling. Ubiquitin tags can likewise instruct proteins to move to other locations in the cell, where they control other cellular mechanisms.

These regulators of ubiquitin are called deubiquitinating enzymes. The enzymes work by removing the ubiquitin labels, important to many cellar processes, and thus implicated in a range of human diseases. Forma Therapeutics and Cancer Research Technology will jointly investigate enzymes that regulate pathways dependent on ubiquitin implicated in cancer.

Under the deal, Cancer Research Technology will provide five academic researchers from the U.K. and Netherlands to study the biology behind deubiquitinating enzymes. The researchers will be part of a structure devised by Forma called asset discovery and development companies or ADDCos, a platform for joining academic researchers with Forma’s drug discovery technologies. In the collaboration with Cancer Research Technology, Forma Therapeutics says it will create up to 10 ADDcos.

For drug discovery, Forma Therapeutics uses protein crystallography, a type of high-resolution X-ray that visualizes proteins at the atomic level, and combines it with computational models, mapping against its protein database, and high-throughput screening. Under the deal, Forma will provide research funding and payments for ADDco-developed drug candidates meeting certain (but unspecified) milestones.

Forma Therapeutics is a five year-old company based in part on research conducted at at the Broad Institute, a research collaboration of MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, and the Whitehead Institute. Michael Foley, director of the therapeutics platform at Broad Institute, is one of the founders of Forma Therapeutics and a current member of the company’s board of directors.

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