The UK medical research charity the Wellcome Trust has awarded the US biotech PTC Therapeutics, Inc. $5.4 million under its Seeding Drug Discovery programme for the development of drugs that target Bmi-1, a protein linked to drug resistance in a range of different cancers.
Bmi-1 has been shown to contribute to drug resistance and treatment failure. It acts by switching off regulatory pathways inside the cell that would normally stop cancer from developing. Bmi-1 is also thought to play a role in the survival and maintenance of tumour stem cells in many cancers, including central nervous system cancers such as glioblastoma.
Given that Bmi-1 is necessary for tumour stem cell survival, reduction of this protein is likely to increase susceptibility of tumours to chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. Elevated levels of Bmi-1 in cancers such as glioblastoma correlate with advanced tumour grade and a poor prognosis.
Stuart Peltz, President and Chief Executive Officer at PTC Therapeutics, said, “Compounds that selectively reduce Bmi-1 levels have broad therapeutic potential in treatment of drug-resistant cancers, such as glioblastoma, a cancer where current therapies extend life by only months.”
Using its proprietary screening technique GEMS, PTC has identified a lead chemical series that selectively blocks production of Bmi-1. The programme is in early lead optimisation, and has the goal of identifying a drug candidate that could be taken orally for the treatment of chemotherapy-resistant cancers.
“PTC’s elegant approach to tackling chemotherapy resistance takes us into a truly novel area of research,” said Richard Davis, Business Development Manager of the Wellcome Trust.
The Trust launched the Seeding Drug Discovery funding initiative in 2005 and recently announced a five-year extension to the scheme with an injection of £110 million.