University of Dundee

Dundee researchers play major role in helping GlaxoSmithKline with development of new anti-cancer drug.

01 Oct 2013

Researchers at the University of Dundee have played a key role in the development of a new anti-cancer drug targeting melanoma.

GlaxoSmithKline have announced that their BRAF protein kinase inhibitor Dabrafenib (Tafinlar), has been approved by both the European Commission and the United States Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma associated with the BRAF V600E mutation.

Unresectable melanoma is that which cannot be removed by surgery, while metastatic melanoma is that which has spread to other parts of the body.

The new drug was developed employing BRAF enzymes generated by researchers in the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee. DSTT staff Samantha Raggett, Carla Baillie, Shabana Anwar-Topping, Susan Finn, James Hastie, and Hilary McLauchlan devoted huge effort to produce sufficient quantities of the BRAF enzyme for GlaxoSmithKline.

The Division has been operating for the past 15 years and is a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline and other major pharmaceutical companies, aimed at developingdrugs that target protein kinases.

Professor Dario Alessi, Director of the DSTT collaboration, said, “I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to play a significant role in aiding GlaxoSmithKline develop a new anti-cancer drug. An important remit of our research is to come up with innovative ideas, technology and reagents to help with the development of new drugs. I personally spent several years in the mid 1990s, whilst a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Philip Cohen’s lab, studying the function and regulation of RAF enzymes.

“The technology and assays that we developed to manufacture and investigate the BRAF enzyme was transferred to our DSTT collaboration and the staff have devoted huge efforts to produce sufficient quantities of the BRAF enzyme for GlaxoSmithKline. It is extremely gratifying to learn that the fruits of this labour have played a role in the discovery of a new drug that can benefit patients.

“We are helping GlaxoSmithKline as well as the five other companies that support the DSTT collaboration - AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Merck-Serono and Pfizer - with many other important projects that I hope in the future will also contribute to the development of further new drugs that target components of the phosphorylation and ubiquitylation system.”

The DSTT was founded in 1998, expanded in 2003 and renewed for a second time in 2008. At its third renewal in 2012, the DSTT had attracted £50 million in funding since it started. It is widely regarded as a model for how academia and industry can interact productively and was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2006.

The DSTT works to accelerate the development of new drug treatments for major global diseases including cancer, arthritis, lupus, hypertension and Parkinson’s disease in a market that is estimated to be worth £15 billion per annum and projected to reach £30 billion per annum by 2025.

(Attached pic shows the DSTT researchers who generated the enzymes, left to right, Samantha Raggett, Carla Baillie, Shabana Anwar-Topping, Susan Finn, Hilary McLauchlan and James Hastie)