Merck KGaA steps up Hippo pathway cancer pact with CRT

Merck kgaa
Merck KGaA is working with CRT to discover drugs aimed at the Hippo pathway.

Merck KGaA has taken its oncology collaboration with Cancer Research Technology (CRT) to the next level. The move sees Merck and CRT kick off a full drug discovery program aimed at the Hippo pathway after spending a year on target validation.

CRT and Merck began work on the pathway late in 2015. At that time, the goal was to validate the potential to treat cancer via the Hippo pathway and figure out how best to drug key targets. That done, the partners are now working to identify molecules to take into preclinical development and beyond.

Merck and CRT’s interest in the Hippo pathway stems from its suspected role in a range of cancers. The pathway controls the size or organs by regulating cell proliferation and apoptosis. Problems arise if the pathway stops regulating these activities. Research has linked deregulation of the pathway to the growth of cancer, particularly via metastasis.

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If Merck and CRT can find drugs that keep the brakes on cell growth, they could improve outcomes for patients with tumors that are poised to spread.

CRT originally enlisted Hippo signalling specialist Nic Tapon, Ph.D., and his colleague at the Francis Crick Institute, Barry Thompson, Ph.D., to research the pathway. Tapon will continue contributing to the project now it has advanced to the drug discovery stage. 

Such bridging of academia and industry is central to CRT’s operating model.

“We’ve brought together leading academics in the field and industry to build on world-class research, and we’re now focused on developing these early projects for the benefit of cancer patients,” CRT CEO Iain Foulkes, Ph.D., said in a statement. 

CRT is in line to receive milestones and royalties if the programs advance through development and onto the market. 

The deal adds to the ties between German Merck and CRT. Earlier this month, Merck and CRT pooled pipeline prospects to create Swiss immuno-oncology biotech iOnctura. Merck Ventures provided seed funding to get the company up and running.  

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