Cancer Research Technology: Keith Blundy on Collaborating with Big Pharma




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Video title: Cancer Research Technology: Keith Blundy on Collaborating with Big Pharma
Released on: August 19, 2010. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, Fintan Walton talks with Keith Blundy, CEO of Cancer Research Technology (CRT). Filmed at the PharmaTelevision studios in Oxford, UK, they discuss:

• Activity in the last two years for CRT

• The development of the Discovery Group

• The importance of collaborating with big pharma

• Working with AstraZeneca, MRCT, Cephalon and the University of Auckland, amongst other arrangements

• The future of CRT

Activity in the last two years for CRT
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here in Oxford. On this show I have Keith Blundy, who is CEO of Cancer Research Technology part of Cancer Research UK, welcome to the show.
Keith Blundy:
Thanks Fintan, it's great to be here again.
Fintan Walton:
Yes indeed and it was just over a couple of years ago when you were on this particular show. Cancer Research UK is a world famous Cancer Research Charity obviously focused in the area of cancer, Cancer Research Technology which you are a CEO of is responsible for taking that technology or identifying technology, identifying new drugs specifically and taking those to commercial into the marketplace basically. So in the last couple of years lots of things have happened, the pharmaceutical industry continues to try and fill its pipelines, biotech companies are finding it difficult to get funding and here at CRT in that sort of in the middle I suppose trying to make its contribution, trying to improving the way in which you can get improve its contribution to overall finding suitable cures for number of cancer, so what is it how is it been for you at Cancer Research Technology in the last couple of years?
Keith Blundy:
Well I think sad as it may be for industry the way that we've been losing jobs and losing our pharmaceutical industry in this country it's a fantastic opportunity for those of us whose job is to try and exploit and make the best out of the basic probably the funded research, as you know when we discussed things last time we were in the (indiscernable) of expanding our own in-house drug discovery capability that process came to a sort of culmination I guess about a year ago and since then we've really been trying to drive through delivery from those operations, and with this changing industry now there is a real hunger to work with operations like ourselves.
The development of the Discovery Group
Fintan Walton:
Yes, so one of the key things that you did say couple of years ago was the development of the discovery group within Cancer Research UK which is gonna be an important part of that, that has now most positions of that are now been filled and it's very much underway now, could you give us quick update on that?
Keith Blundy:
Yes, so we started and it's a quite interesting if we go back to the history of CRT , because we had as a tech transfer operation actually a lot laboratory back as far as 1994, but it's really over the last five-years or so we've expanded that up to its current content of 85 staff based in two sites London and Cambridge. And so that build of infrastructure and people and talent was completed, and as I said we've really been trying to drive out quick from that now and we are very pleased with some of the things that happened recently which I am sure we were gonna get on to this the announcement of the couple of transactions we've done with the biotech and pharma industry.
The importance of collaborating with big pharma
Fintan Walton:
Sure, well that's the important thing because obviously no organization no matter how big they are can do cancer research or any drug development on its own so collaboration is going to be the main theme, but obviously as I said it's against the backdrop a changed environment over the last couple of years obviously for CR, for Cancer Research UK as well as CRT there are " if there are any biotech companies around and obviously there are, but they are less of them and they are less funded so some of the options have changed not only from your perspective but also from the pharmaceutical companies, because big pharma companies are have been dependent on biotech companies coming and being available for some form of collaboration less so probably now, so where does CRT fit in relation to this changed market?
Keith Blundy:
Well I think there is still a gap that's been left by the demise of some of the funding venture funding into creating new early stage companies that's part of the gap we are trying to fill, but I think also the industry itself has changed and the model they are working too has changed, they are, because those companies aren't there they are forced to look earlier, but also I think there - shall we say paradigm for drug discovery new medicines development now is based around better understanding with biology, I am not just trying to turn the handle shall we say and do things in a bigger more cost efficient way, and because of that having an early stage discovery unit like we have bolted on to and synergistic with the basic research we have is a very attractive proposition bringing basic experts in biology to the table with some early drug discovery makes us a good partner and that's the gap we are trying to fill in our small niche in cancer.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and of course that's important because opening up the understanding of cancer itself is one thing to come up with targets but to come up with mechanisms, come up with ways in which intervention, successful intervention can happen is often left to academia often left to research institutions like your own, so how important then is it that company or organizations like yourselves then collaborate with maybe even major pharmaceutical companies who may not yet be interested in that fundamental research let's say, but you are bridging that gap between potential new areas for drug intervention and what a pharma company may need?
Keith Blundy:
Well I think it's absolutely right, I mean unless you can come to that discussion with some biological validation of the targets that you wish to prosecute it's difficult to attract interest, I mean industry knows the areas it's got interest in and those are hugely fairly similar amongst the companies, but clearly when you come to the table if you can bring a key research and who understands some key targets in that pathways and you have already shown or have good disease linkage and good in vitro and in vivo validation biologically if not chemically because that's what we gonna hopefully do with the company, you are in a good position to really help and move forward and that's what they are looking for.
Working with AstraZeneca, MRCT
Fintan Walton:
Right, so a good example of that is obviously the deal you did with AstraZeneca [PharmaDeals ID = 34890], so tell us little bit about that?
Keith Blundy:
Yes, so we announced this back in January, it's a three-year multi project alliance 50-50 sharing in terms of resources. The projects are chosen from the early stages of process from target identification, some early validation we do together all the way through to generation of leads at which point roughly AstraZeneca will then take successful projects through to the clinic. So it's very much you know, I think it's almost actually unique nothing is ever unique, but in terms of a technology transfer having company, having a drug discovery enterprise working that sort of early with the pharma I think it's a great validation for what we doing and a great validation for the model of our other tech transfer operations are also taking.
Fintan Walton:
Well in someways is the industry going way back to probably 30, 40-years ago when it reached into research itself to get expertise what happened in the last 30-years with biotech companies so there was a sort of a stepping stone, but just going back to this, this deal with AstraZeneca you've mentioned there were several projects, I mean what's the breath of that and how much does AstraZeneca bring and how much does Cancer Research UK bring?
Keith Blundy:
Yes, I should be clear I mean we are working in a very defined area, its defined as cancer metabolism which in itself is a broad church of science and we bring ideas to the table what we jointly discuss, the amount of resource being applied as they say is up to about 30 people and roughly shared equally depending on the phase of the project and we may have in the portfolio up to about five projects at any moment of time. So we are free to work with anyone else we like outside the cancer metabolism or any projects that our partner AstraZeneca doesn't want to pursue we'd also be able to take elsewhere, but it's very much working together from the start through to the early stages of discovery.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and obviously another announcement that you did recently last week for an example talking about keeping things and giving things away was this arrangement with the MRCT which is equivalent of at the Medical Research Cancer here in the UK, what's the basis of that collaboration or agreement between the two?
Keith Blundy:
Well I mean as you said there is a theme running ahead that we realize at drug discovery particularly early stage is very high risk long-term process, we need to build networks, we need to partner to make this work, so MRCT have expertise in areas outside of canceror some area focus is cancer it makes sense for both us and them not to tread on each other's toes if you like, but actually to recognize those skills let them work on projects that we find outside of canceror projects in which we are prosecuting cancer also have application in another therapeutic areas and vice versa for them with us. So I think it's part of a new world if you like where we are all trying to make the most of the resources we've got in these times when resources are little scarce than they've been.
Working with University of Auckland, Cephalon
Fintan Walton:
Yes, and when it comes to reaching out to those resources you will even go to the other side of the earth literally to places like The University of Auckland [PharmaDeals ID = 35733], tell us about the type of arrangements you have with The University of Auckland?
Keith Blundy:
Yes, I think that's one of the other thing that CRT has really done very well over the years and that's to realize that we need a YI application, we need a network to do these things that we were doing and we've had a long standing relationship with The University of Auckland there is a very good drug discovery going and they have a great track record led my Professor Bill Denny of the Auckland Cancer Society. We knew they had expertise and a particular target we wanted to prosecute and so we invited them to collaborate with us even though it's 12,000 miles away these things can be done and they got support for a number of FDA's through their own venture fund, so that's just an additional way we leverage actually resources to move one of our programs forward.
Fintan Walton:
Right, then across the Tasman Sea something that you did little bit earlier than that is this Cancer Therapeutics, could you tell us about that collaboration and what effect that has?
Keith Blundy:
Yes, it's a similar theme as we've been talking about but much grander scale, so Cancer Therapeutics was formed in Australia in 2007 I think it was there are eight academic institutions largely based in Melbourne, but also Griffith University in Brisbane backed by Australian Government money and the idea of this enterprise is to bring together the best of the Australian drug discovery infrastructure in which there is a great deal I would have to say and some very expert people down there, and it brings them together in a corporate vehicle called Cancer Therapeutics which has in the first instance seven years funding from the Australian Government. CRT 's role in all of that is to be the commercialization partner for any projects which come through that early drug discovery and again that configured like ourselves aiming to move from target through to a proof of concept in animals and then look for partners. So anything that comes out of that process from academic science through CTx as we call them would be commercialized by CRT .
Fintan Walton:
When you talk about commercialization, what do you mean by commercialization?
Keith Blundy:
Well that would be well over is the most appropriate mode, it could be that we have a number of projects which are worth spinning out we do that for most likely it's going to be a collaboration with industry or license to industry. I should say in the theme of networks we've been talking about we are also able to have them work with us, join the on projects we've done that since we started this, we each had a PI who was working on an interest in that particular target, so we joined them up with our respected drug discovery, we've also found targets that are American operations and that we didn't want to prosecute, but they had expertise in that biology so replaced that project with them down there so we are going it's just showing the power of these networks you can build.
Fintan Walton:
So it's placing been able to put the research into those areas of where expertise resides?
Keith Blundy:
Absolutely.
Fintan Walton:
Whether that's inside a pharma company, whether that's back here at Cancer Research UK or over into the Yugoslavia. The other announcement that you've made at the early part of this year was a collaboration with Cephalon [PharmaDeals ID = 35338], I think that was much more of a traditional arrangement?
Keith Blundy:
It's a single project, a typical PKC M&A team from some of our Cancer Research UK fund researchers Peter Parker and Neil McDonald at the London Research Institute, but again what's in the theme of what we are talking about here and the way the industry going again it's a risk sharing collaboration, we aim to get from our early leads or projects which is at lead optimization there to a candidate within two-years and again it's got a structured with some stage gates and if we get to proof of concept in animals then this our resource will taper off and there will increase, but at the moment we are sharing 50-50. So we are very excited about that, because again we are much more happy sharing risk with people, getting the projects at last much more quickly and also bring expertise in parts of the drug discovery chain which we don't have the resources to build, so we got to recognize what we can do and what industry can do, shall we say better than us and work with them on that.
The future of CRT
Fintan Walton:
Right, so I described the environment the economic environment some way's but also the collaborative environment as well and how do you see then CRT moving into the future in this sort of collaborative mode, obviously collaborations are the theme you've done this deal with AstraZeneca how much more can you do in terms of slicing up the collaborations and obviously working with big pharma is one thing, but you are obviously working with academic groups as well, so how do you, how do you see that shaping out and what's left then for CRT in terms of its productivity in bringing hopefully new medicines to those patients who've got cancer?
Keith Blundy:
Well I think you are absolutely right is only so much we at CRT with our own discovery capability can take on in terms of relations it's got, I do except we will do probably at least one more quite haven't configured that I am not sure, but we shouldn't forget the CRT is only a one part of the overall Cancer Research UK drug discovery network with some very prominent Cancer Research UK researchers that run drug discovery groups and we are also responsible for partnering those and the projects from those groups within the state.
Fintan Walton:
Sure, so there are future collaborations?
Keith Blundy:
There are plenty of other collaboration potential out there another Cancer Research UK groups even if CRT only has a certain man or bandwidth, but we are not finished yet.
Fintan Walton:
Right, and I suppose one of that a sort of future looking activities is this event you are holding in Boston later this month, could you tell us little bit about the purpose of that?
Keith Blundy:
Yes, one of the things we always like to try and challenge ourselves is to try and understand better what the gaps are, we've been talking about gaps in this early stage discovery process, but it's like every business you need to understand what your customers want, so we have tried some models that we put in place trying to bridge this gap, trying to build academic consortia, but we grow of those, what we were gonna do in this workshop in Boston is we'll have 6 to 10 pharma and biotech senior people from the Boston arena and we will discuss with them all kind of What are you looking for? What do you want from academic science? How can we structure that best so that we work for you? and we found these sort of workshops work quite well to help guide us in what the when it comes to market wants.
Fintan Walton:
Keith Blundy, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Keith Blundy:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Keith Blundy
CEO
Keith Blundy joined Cancer Research Technology in 1998, became COO in 2004 and was appointed CEO in 2007. Since then he has overseen the expansion of the CRT Discovery Labs to 85 staff and subsequent initiation of risk sharing discovery alliances with AstraZeneca and Cephalon, the establishment of CRT Inc in Boston (USA) as a business development arm of CRT and the further globalization of CRT 's cancer IP development and commercialization through becoming a partner of Cancer Therapeutics Pty in Melbourne, Australia. After completing a PhD at the John Innes Institute and a post doctoral Fulbright scholarship in the US on the regulation of plant gene expression, he spent 10 years managing and commercializing agricultural biotechnology programmes before transitioning to healthcare through business development. Keith Blundy has a BSc and PhD in genetics and an MBA from the London Business School. He was formerly a director of KuDOS Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Chroma Therapeutics Ltd and currently is on the board of Cytosystems Ltd and Cancer Therapeutics Pty.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Cancer Research Technology
Cancer Research Technology (CRT) is the cancer-focused technology development and commercialisation arm of Cancer Research UK, the world's largest cancer charity. Cancer Research UK is a cancer research and awareness charity in the United Kingdom, formed on 4 February 2002 by the merger of The Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund