Astex Pharmaceuticals (UK), a pharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel small molecule therapeutics for oncology and diseases of the central nervous system, today announced an exclusive worldwide research collaboration and license agreement with MSD.

The goal of the collaboration is to identify small molecule candidates with activity towards a tumour suppressor protein for the treatment of cancer.

“Astex is applying its fragment-based drug discovery capability to design and generate small molecule modulators tailored to a wide range of potentially important therapeutic targets,” said Harren Jhoti, president and CEO of Astex.  “This new alliance builds on our existing productive collaboration and allows us to combine our expertise and assets with MSD’s wide-ranging oncology capabilities.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Astex will apply its fragment-based drug discovery platform to develop compounds targeting multiple forms of the p53 tumour suppressor protein and provide MSD with lead compounds for further optimization and preclinical development.

MSD is granted an exclusive global license to research, develop, and commercialise candidates arising under the collaboration. Astex will receive an upfront payment of $35m and is eligible for milestone payments associated with the achievement of preclinical, clinical, regulatory and sales milestones, totalling approximately $500m per program, as well as tiered royalties on sales of any products arising from the collaboration. MSD will assume responsibility for funding all future research and development of lead candidates as well as commercialisation of products globally.

“At MSD we are committed to driving innovation with the goal of improving outcomes for patients with cancer,” said George Addona, senior vice president discovery and translational medicine, MSD. “We look forward to building on our collaboration with the Astex team to advance this potentially impactful area of oncology research.”