University of Dundee

Successful anti-cancer alliance extended

19 Jul 2021

The expansion of an exemplary industry-academia collaboration will see the University of Dundee, in partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim, intensify its efforts to develop new medicines that target and destroy key cancer-causing proteins, which have previously been regarded as undruggable.

Dundee is a world leader in the field of Proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs), while Boehringer Ingelheim is renowned for its pharmaceutical expertise and commitment to bringing innovative medicines to patients with cancer. The three-year deal will see the company invest further in a growing team effort, with the option to extend this relationship at the end of this period.

The size of the Dundee team working directly on PROTAC cancer drug discovery will more than double with the creation of 18 new skilled jobs and will be based in the recently announced Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation (CeTPD).

“This is an important collaboration for both the University and Boehringer Ingelheim, as well as a globally significant one in the PROTAC and cancer drug discovery fields,” said Alessio Ciulli, Professor of Chemical Structural Biology and Director of CeTPD.

“With our new Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation, we are redefining how academia and industry combine their respective strength to accelerate a pipeline of molecules with the potential to break new ground for medicines that will transform the lives of many patients suffering from previously untreatable diseases.

“I am delighted that Boehringer Ingelheim have decided to expand the size and scope of our collaboration. This marks a key milestone and it is a testament to the tremendous progress and success made by the alliance, and particular credit must go to Dr William Farnaby, who heads up the Dundee team.”

The collaboration’s approach has already yielded the first PROTAC which shreds SMARCA2, a protein that drives the tumors of more than 20,000 new patients each year and for which drug discovery approaches have been unsuccessful to date. Work is now expanding to other major oncology targets.

PROTACs represent a new class of drug candidates with the potential to tackle disease-driving targets where traditional medicinal chemistry approaches have failed. They work by harnessing the cell’s natural disposal system (the ubiquitin-proteasome). Candidate disease-causing proteins are labelled as “expired” proteins which the proteasome then shreds.

Since the initiation of the collaboration in 2016 and a significant expansion in 2018, the application of PROTACs has grown dramatically. This further extension, along with the establishment of CeTPD, will enable Dundee to cement its position as one of only a handful of institutions across the globe driving innovation in this area.

Dr Clive R. Wood, Corporate Senior Vice President and Global Head, Discovery Research at Boehringer Ingelheim, said, “Our collaboration with Professor Ciulli and colleagues has brought significant success.  We are now building on this strong foundation and expanding our partnership. “This is an exceptional joint team and it is positioned to discover and advance medicines that strike at the root cause of cancer.”

Read more about the work of Boehringer Ingelheim and their partnerships, including with Dundee, in their science story feature, Changing the Game in Cancer Drug Discovery:Removing Disease-Causing Proteins with Surgical Precision.