Cancer Research Technology: Driving Cancer Drug Development




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Video title: Cancer Research Technology: Driving Cancer Drug Development
Released on: October 21, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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In this programme Fintan Walton talks to Dr Keith Blundy, CEO of Cancer Research Technology, the drug development and commercialisation arm of Cancer Research UK. Having described the relationship between Cancer Research UK and CRT, Dr Blundy goes on to explain that CRT’s role goes beyond drug discovery to source, develop and commercialise drugs in order to achieve their ultimate aim of increasing patient benefit. He talks of the business strategies and future plans for CRT including how the company intends to cope with a lack of potential partners in the UK to ensure that it manages to achieve its goals.
Cancer Research UK's activities and functions in drug discovery and development.
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures Business Review here live in London. On this show I have Keith Blundy, who is Chief Executive at Cancer Research Technology. Welcome to the show.
Keith Blundy:
Thanks Fintan.
Fintan Walton:
Keith, Cancer Research Technology is the technology transfer arm of the business unit of Cancer Research UK and we going to talk about that particular aspect of Cancer Research UK, but before we do that could you just give me and what is little bit of introduction into Cancer Research UK's activities itself and where does that fit in relation to both drug discovery and drug development?
Keith Blundy:
Sure. And Cancer Research UK is the largest independent funder of Cancer research in the world. It spends over 350 million pounds a year on research and a proportion of that goes into drug discovery and also development through our clinical trials activities. So there are a number of drug discovery groups housed throughout the UK Research Community principally there are two major ones, one in Newcastle and one in Sutton that's part of the Institute Cancer Research. CRT is also part of that drug discovery strategy and we will go on and talk about that. We are also hoping to announce in the next 12 months the establishment of the couple at least two more drug discovery groups being set up that are other parts of our major research institutes.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So how it actually for how a Cancer Research UK actually functions from a drug discovery point of view and development of view is that it is it's got its own research laboratories, its own research institutions, but it also funds into specific laboratories in the universities and research institutions?
Keith Blundy:
Yeah CRUK has a mixed economy in the older research led funds it either has some employed scientist with their own infrastructure or it provides grants to universities most of the drug discovery activities are through direct grant in aid to researchers who are not at the moment employed by CRUK but or in other institutions for example Newcastle and Institute Cancer Research.
Fintan Walton:
Sure.
Keith Blundy:
CRT would be an exception and the new groups that will be established will also be university employees but housed in major CRUK Institutes.
Cancer Research Technology 's role within Cancer Research UK and involvement in deals, Licensing and Clinical trials.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So then we come on to your role and CRT's role in within Cancer Research UK, so what is that role?
Keith Blundy:
Well our role is not only in drug discovery, our role as you rightly said is at the business unit or technology transfer arm so we look after all the cancer discoveries that come out of that research and it is our job to identify those things which could one day make a difference for the lives of cancer patients to find the appropriate development means for those and eventually pass them on to industry because without industry of course they will never reach the patient and this patient benefit we're principally interested in. So it's our job to source, evaluate, develop and eventually commercialize the patient benefit.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So are you you're obviously involved in setting up deals, out licensing technology, out licensing specific drugs but do you also in license as well?
Keith Blundy:
That's an interesting question. I mean one of the things I would say that makes CRT a little bit difference is we don't mind where the original discovery comes from and that includes the industry itself, so we certainly have taken projects from smaller companies who don't know either have the financing or whether all to do an oncology application, we've also and we can talk about this some more later on more developed projects we've run an initiative over the last few years with our colleagues in CRUK where by we've gone to the larger companies who have shelved or deprioritized clinical stage molecules and we brought those out into clinical development, so we'll take projects from wherever they arise.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So you are quite willing to take on the responsibilities of and the risks of taking a drug through clinical trials?
Keith Blundy:
Well absolutely I mean Cancer Research UK is drug development office is running some where between 20 and 40 clinical trials a year, it does many of those not only in partnership with academic scientist but also with industry and increasingly so with industry. And as I've said we have the clinical development partnerships program which actively invites companies to come and work with us on a risk sharing basis.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So how does that affect the Cancer Research UK you know parental activities, the parent company the parent organization to CRT? Well how is that what sort of influence is that have back on to the actual charity itself?
Keith Blundy:
Well most of that work in the clinical side is done by the charity, CRT is if you like the commercial front end of that and we work very closely with the parent in making sure the appropriate arrangements in place, but with we have a joint team that is the front end of that.
Fintan Walton:
So Cancer Research UK itself gets embedded and involved in these collaborations?
Keith Blundy:
Yes absolutely.
Fintan Walton:
So when it comes to these collaborations the ones you talked about the risk sharing and so forth and as you say you invite companies to approach you and so forth, in the majority of cases how does that come about?
Keith Blundy:
Well it's like any other business development activity as I said we have a team, it took us two-years if we are just talking specifically about the clinical development part program we have a team there we've spent two-years from launching the idea and we've created the separate website within the CRUK banner going and talking and visiting major pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies to sell this proportion to them and time to change as you know over the last few years that the industry is becoming much more open to doing things with academia and it's now seeing the benefits of this program where this past two, three-years ago was harder to sell for them.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Keith Blundy:
I should say one of the key things about this it is rather I would say to use a well use phrase no (indiscernable) for them there we unlike other companies would do, we will take the molecule, we will trial it at our risk and we will offer it back to them, all we ask is that we may retain some financial share in that because we are most interested I've said before in patient benefit we want to see these molecules given a chance.
Fintan Walton:
Yes, yes. And so in that respect clearly your ambition is not to become a pharmaceutical company�
Keith Blundy:
No.
Fintan Walton:
Or an IPO you are a facilitator for taking drugs through that company develop?
Keith Blundy:
Absolutely, we are not trying to recreate what industry can do, we try and recognize what industries strengths are and we try and compliment those.
Changes in terms of collaborations.
Fintan Walton:
Right. And of course in that landscape of organizations which you can work with the biotech industries, small companies, larger organizations or larger pharmaceutical companies clearly over the last 10-years that landscape has changed a lot does that mean that the environment for yourselves has changed and what is open to you to in terms of collaborations?
Keith Blundy:
Well I think there are several things in that, I mean five-years or so ago we took the decision to build up our own and we haven't talked yet much about discovery, we talked very much about development to build up our own discovery capability within CRT, by the end of this year there will be 90 people which is in itself a reasonable size biotech activity for that. The reason we did that was because we saw at that time it was very hard to take other modes of developing projects with industry because you needed to develop into the point of which industry would engage with you, so and doing spin outs was very, very hard over the last five-years the cap size has been around, VC's up in much more looked at to get involved in drug discovery place.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Keith Blundy:
So we took the decision that we needed to, if we want to leverage the science we got need to develop there ourselves. I think I am just about finishing that expansion phase and we beginning to see the fruits of that and we'll have projects to license and we do have projects we are beginning to license through industry. But I think now there is two things that's happening obviously the industry is becoming much more interested in earlier stage projects again it sees academia as a way to better understand the disease. And is therefore interested in collaborating more and we are certainly doing more collaborations, but we also feel there is opportunities now again with very selected pieces of science to do the odd spin out company and that's something we are looking out at the moment, we are incubating a few in that regard.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Because the that's one area that has I suppose in recent years become more difficult getting a spin out often around and getting the appropriate funding for that?
Keith Blundy:
And absolutely as I said we have been rather reactive in the last five-years we've not decided to roll our sleeves up and try and form a new company partly because of the environment, partly because we don't think things that are really going to have a chance of being success and in our eyes you know we could talk about the small number of companies that we've been involved and that been really very successful the Kudos [PharmaDeals ID = 17222] [PharmaDeals ID = 29620], the Piramed [PharmaDeals ID = 18209] which go on leverage the science, develop number of drug candidates and then eventually find their way to having a very strong development partner and if we are lucky that secondarily patch returns some money to us for further research. We are looking to set up enterprises that to do that rather than things which may struggle to raise the additional finance and we will find ourselves taking the technology back and having to find another route for it.
Fintan Walton:
Right. And as you already indicated pharmaceutical companies themselves are much more willing to come into collaborations than they did in the past�
Keith Blundy:
Absolutely.
Fintan Walton:
At an earlier stage?
Keith Blundy:
Yes, we are seeing that now, yeah.
Fintan Walton:
But also I mean are the pharmaceutical companies more willing to enter into sharing risk sharing I mean giving you more back of more of the potential reward?
Keith Blundy:
I'd say it's earlier days yet to know whether commercially the returns are going to be any different, obviously we would hope that given the particularly where we are investing in projects in our own discovery facilities that they would respect the effort and the risk that we've already taken, we are bringing better developed projects to them and we would hope that they would recognize the risk and reward us appropriately, but as I said we are very, very keen to make sure that our science gets developed and ultimately we will do the best deal we can for them and us to get something developed.
Cancer Research UK's collaboration strategies with biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
Fintan Walton:
And going back to one of the points that you made earlier about understanding the science to cancer I mean clearly Cancer Research UK one of the aims of that organization is not only to find to help get products through to market but and encourage that, but also to get back into the science and understanding the basis of disease, how does that actually work in relation to the collaborations that you've have with some of the pharmaceutical and biotech companies?
Keith Blundy:
Most of the collaborations as I said they come, they come around more existing discovery programs so they've already decided they are interested in a particular target. There are few where people are getting that far but they just want to get involved in funding the basic science, however we did launch something very recently where we have decided to put together and it got a reason why it pressed because we went out into the name of crack teams where we put together a group of scientist focused on a particular area of biology and that's said and we put all of the fruits to that research is going to be generated over the next few years inside a corporate vehicle which can then interact with companies and we are getting interest from companies to come and be partners to that, that enterprise which is going to answer some basic fundamental questions in a particular outcomes of biology.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Keith Blundy:
And so on the whole you don't have a huge amount of interactions to the basic science level it's all around understanding and exist how to better develop an existing drug discovery program.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Keith Blundy:
There is certainly one, just need to go on in slightly. One program looking at recently what we have had a major pharmaceutical company talk with us about we both have an interest in this particular target they want us to help them understand how and generate an appropriate biological hypothesis tests in the clinics, because although the world has kind of moved on and they want to know what patients this molecule should actually be targeted towards.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Keith Blundy:
In otherwise you want to understand the genotypes in patient segmentation.
Fintan Walton:
In personalized medicine?
Keith Blundy:
Personalized medicine, so you know then they want that sort of information, they've realized that we have access to patients groups we have access to people working in the target biology that we may be able to help them with that.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Keith Blundy:
So I think we will see more of that also going forward.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So it's how you, how you can how companies and organizations can gain access to the breadth of what Cancer Research UK does?
Keith Blundy:
Absolutely and we see that as one of the strengths and I think industry sees that as one of our strengths.
Fintan Walton:
Right. And one of the things that you've just mentioned as well is the idea these crack teams working and so forth, so how important are innovations like that in terms of attracting collaborations?
Keith Blundy:
Well I think obviously these things do raise profile, I think that is an innovative thing to do we've only set one up so for. I think the clinical development partnership was an innovation and one of the things our messages I wanted to try in there get over to you is one of the things we do rather grandly try and challenge ourselves to do is to look at this kind of path in research through to patient and ask ourselves what's not working and is there anything we can do about it. As examples I would say both of those these crack team's idea, the clinical development partnerships but also the fact that over five-years ago we put in place a discovery capability and always try and bridge that gap in early discovery to make assets which industry would be interested in.
Improvements in clinical development programs.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Of course another way of looking at the issues of trying to get drug to market hopefully and successfully into patients is more important obviously is the clinical development programs themselves now one is to find a product or have methods to discover product, but the other is that the appropriate clinical development programs. So how is Cancer Research UK and how CRT getting involved in improving the ways in which we can, we can test drugs and prove safety and efficacy?
Keith Blundy:
Okay. I am probably not the best person to answer this from CRUK, but I mean that the clinical activities in CRUK most of your clinical community in the UK is funded in one way or another through Cancer Research UK. So I will give an example of how they are trying to improve all of that with rather experimental cancer centers which have had additional money from CRUK and I think the NHS to try and do more experimental medicine to bring in (indiscernable) earlier to bring biomarkers in earlier. So all that sort of additional technologies being brought there under the auspices of work being done by Cancer Research UK with its partners.
Cancer Research UK and Cancer Research Technology 's perspective on pricing of drugs.
Fintan Walton:
Another thing that we can't really ignore when it comes to cancer drugs being development is the old age debate, now an old age debate about pricing of drugs
Keith Blundy:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
From CRT, from CRUK's perspective and your own organizations perspective what's the what is the perspective there?
Keith Blundy:
Well from Cancer Research Technology I mean we're fairly well back in this chain you know we are dealing with project which are very, very early having said that it has crossed our minds and it is something we've been thinking about is there anything we can do in terms of contractual and licensing with our projects which could help to solve this problem in the future. However I think much more importantly Cancer Research UK is obviously very heavily involved as a patient group in this debate. And it has you know I can say what CRUK has already published and it has taken the view along with many others that what we need to address here is the way the pricing is done we need a to look at a valuable value based pricing system one in which the value is judged once the drug is into the market if you like and we can understand responders and non-responders and so on and so forth having this disconnect between pricing and price capping and then NICE which looks at cost benefit is clearly not gonna work in the long run and there is got to be some bring of that together to do this on a more value base. Its particular acute and it is a problem for I think for all medical charities particularly in the area of cancer where you have the treatments going, the ones that have the most done that need, the drugs are being priced higher because there is a small patient population and also it's always done in late stage patients. So things are being tested for their worth in the in patients with the low life expectancy therefore high price, low prospect of having huge amount of benefit it's a vicious circle so those with most unmet need have very little chance of seeing those drugs come through so it's clearly this is something Cancer Research UK will be discussing both with regulators and the industry and hoping to enable a solution.
Fintan Walton:
So that the recommendation is let's look at this more carefully, look at it in a way that can actually in the end reward everybody.
Keith Blundy:
Yes, absolutely.
Fintan Walton:
The patient, the payer as well as the innovative company, the pharmaceutical company.
Keith Blundy:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
And in that vein you know looking into the industry as a whole biotech industry in the UK and also in Europe and USA but in particular in the way that you interact with those companies you must have seen changes in that environment?
Keith Blundy:
I think you got sort of two things going on one is as we said the larger companies are really trying hard to get closer to academia there is externalization of some of the research that does give opportunities for collaboration, that does give opportunities for us to do discovery projects together and so on and so forth. On the other side disappointingly of course the, in the UK the biotech sector is trimming down all of the time and when you sit down and you try and ask yourselves who are our potential partners in the UK for cancer drugs in the biotech sector and there are now very, very few. And that's obviously is a worry, because we like to have a mixed economy of partners that we can go to not just a very large companies that let's not to say we don't like working with the big companies clearly we do they have excellent capabilities and we like to see our projects go to good homes, but it's always good to have choices.
Fintan Walton:
But it does that mean that, that some of the drug potential candidates that are coming through are less likely to get to the patient in the end?
Keith Blundy:
Well I think what would happen is we will take our projects I guess to companies wherever they are and we have a subsidiary in Boston and we will use that much more hopefully going forward to try and get into companies over there whether they will be smaller ones or larger ones, so we will internationalize that's a shame for the UK. But I don't think it necessary means things won't get taken forward I think good projects will always find the money and a partner. So if you got good things hopefully they will find a way forward.
CRT's future plans
Fintan Walton:
Right. And looking at CRT, looking into the future and your plans and so forth, what's the mood from your perspective?
Keith Blundy:
Well we are very, very buoyant and then we are in a very healthy position, we are backed by a very large organization which provides some financial support to us. We're finishing our growth phase by the end of this year when we will be a 150 people, we will have our discovery capability in place, we'll move some of that closer to our scientist around the country and we see the next four-years as being four-years in which we really try and deliver from that discovery capability and also to provide good services to our researches. And ultimately you know our aim really in is that when industry is looking for our new project whether it would be a prognostic, or diagnostic, or a therapeutic and is thinking about academic science, the first name on it's list should be Cancer Research UK and CRT that's already what we are aiming to achieve.
Fintan Walton:
Do you have got there?
Keith Blundy:
And we see the situation now as a great platform from which we can do that.
Fintan Walton:
Keith Blundy, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Keith Blundy:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton:
Thank you very much.
Keith Blundy
Chief Executive Officer
Dr Keith Blundy was made CEO of Cancer Research Technology (CRT) in 2007 after nine years with the company during which he held several roles including Chief Operations Officer. At CRT Dr Blundy has been involved in a number of high profile transactions, including the licensing of a programme targeting Hsp90 to Vernalis, which is now partnered with Novartis and due to enter clinical trials. He is chairman of the US subsidiary and led the establishment of CRT in Australia. Before joining the company in 1998 he had spent ten years in R&D management and business development in agricultural biotechnology. He was Director of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, now a wholly owned subsidiary of AstraZeneca and was instrumental in the formation of Chroma Therapeutics and Biotech Research Ventures, CRT's Singapore partner. He holds a BSc in Genetics from Leeds University, a PhD from the John Innes Institute and an MBA from the London Business School. During post-doctoral studies in the US he was a Fulbright Scholar.
Cancer Research Technology
Cancer Research Technology Ltd (CRT) is a technology transfer and drug development company which is owned by Cancer Research UK. Founded twenty years ago its Headquarters and R&D facilities are now located in Central London, with a US subsidiary in Boston, MA. CRT works to identify, protect, develop and market new cancer therapies, diagnostics and technologies by working in partnership with research scientists in academia and in industry. The company aims to maximize the benefit to cancer patients by facilitating cancer research and drug development worldwide. In conjunction with Cancer Research UK, CRT has set up the Clinical Development Partnerships in order to increase the number of successful cancer drugs available by taking greater numbers of potential candidates into clinical development. The scheme focuses on working with biopharma companies that have to prioritize which compounds they take into clinical development, hence shelving the continued development of large numbers of promising agents.