BI teams with Vanderbilt U to pursue novel cancer attack against KRAS

BI and Vanderbilt are developing novel approaches to targeting KRAS mutations, which are prevalent in lung tumors and other cancers.

Mutations in a gene called KRAS are found in up to 25% of lung cancers, 45% of colon tumors and 90% of pancreatic cancers. Yet after three decades of research, no effective treatments targeting KRAS mutations have been developed. Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim hopes to turn around that streak of bad luck via a partnership it has formed with Vanderbilt University.

BI is teaming up with scientists at Vanderbilt to pursue a novel target called SOS (Son Of Sevenless), which is a protein that activates the cancer-causing KRAS gene. The partnership builds upon a 2015 research pact the company formed with the university to develop KRAS-targeting treatments, according to a press release.

BI has been investigating many potential ways to inhibit KRAS, both directly and indirectly. The company intends to develop small molecules to inhibit SOS—in essence making an end run around mutated KRAS but shutting off a key switch that activates it. The work is based on discoveries made by Stephen Fesik, a cancer researcher at Vanderbilt, according to the release.


Like this story? Subscribe to FierceBiotech!

Biopharma is a fast-growing world where big ideas come along every day. Our subscribers rely on FierceBiotech as their must-read source for the latest news, analysis and data in the world of biotech and pharma R&D. Sign up today to get biotech news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.

“With new technologies and the scientific discoveries made by Professor Fesik’s laboratory, we believe the time is now right to step up research efforts to develop novel cancer treatments that work by attacking KRAS and associated signaling pathways,” said Clive Wood, Ph.D., senior corporate vice president of discovery research at BI, in the release.

BI remains committed to conquering KRAS despite a history of setbacks suffered by other biopharma players. Last August, for example, AstraZeneca posted disappointing data from a phase 3 trial of selumetinib, a designed to treat KRAS-mutation-positive non-small cell lung cancer by inhibiting the protein MEK. The drug had previously failed a trial in uveal melanoma.

Bind Therapeutics slid into bankruptcy in 2016 after its drug targeting KRAS-mutation-positive lung cancer, BIND-014, charted disappointing results in lung cancer. Pfizer bought the company in a bankruptcy auction for $40 million.

BI has already chalked up some milestones in its collaboration with Fesik’s lab at Vanderbilt, which began in 2015. Since then, the partners have identified lead compounds that bind to KRAS “with high affinities,” BI says.

Suggested Articles

With a new research team, outlook and more than a little help from the tech world, GSK has been quietly going about shoring up its pipeline.

The World Health Organization has called out Big Pharma for its dearth of antibiotic innovation amid a growing threat of antimicrobial resistance.

The trial hit its primary endpoint by the time of an interim analysis, enabling Chi-Med to stop the study and start work on a filing for approval.