September 30, 2020

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research Launches Drug Discovery Partnerships

First awards go toward two emerging classes of selective anticancer therapeutics

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research (MFCR) is announcing the launch of a new funding program that supports the development of novel cancer therapeutics in areas with high unmet needs. These Drug Discovery Partnership awards are structured to support high-risk, high-reward research and bridge the substantial gap in advancing promising academic discoveries to novel therapies.

Two projects have been initially selected for funding:

  • A team at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute led by Sara Buhrlage, PhD is developing a best-in-class inhibitor of the USP7 enzyme for the treatment of Ewing sarcoma, a rare cancer of the bone and soft tissue that affects children and young adults. USP7 is a deubiquitinating enzyme or “DUB” a class of proteins that regulate cellular protein homeostasis and play an important role in diseases including cancer. Over the past decade there has been much interest targeting DUBs with small molecule therapeutics, however progress has been slow to due to issues with specificity and selectivity. Buhrlage’s lab has discovered a new series of potent and selective USP7 inhibitors that will be optimized preclinically and hopefully bring new therapeutic treatments to the clinic to help treat this devastating childhood cancer. More information on the USP7 project can be found on the MFCR website.
  • A team at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS), part of the institution’s Therapeutics Discovery division, led by Philip Jones, PhD is developing what could be the first inhibitor of the transcriptional co-activator CBP/p300 to be tested clinically in genetically defined leukemias. CBP and p300 proteins are both epigenetic regulators that can read and write certain epigenetic marks on histone proteins and have been linked to the development of cancer and other diseases. The IACS team at MD Anderson has discovered a highly selective series of CBP/p300 bromodomain inhibitors and will now focus on preclinical development. More information on the CBP/p300 project can be found on the MFCR website.

MFCR Drug Discovery Partnerships are focused on key milestones along the continuum from target identification to preclinical development and initial regulatory filings. Projects will typically be supported for 1–3 years with budgets aligned to detailed research plans and award payments made based on milestone achievements. For these initial two projects, up to $4.6M total is expected to be awarded over the next two years.

“From our years of combined pharmaceutical industry experience, my Mark Foundation colleagues and I know that the steps needed to develop a new drug from an early academic concept are fraught with challenges,” said Ryan Schoenfeld, PhD, Vice President, Scientific Research. “It’s an area of tremendous unmet need with which we are uniquely capable to help. We’re ecstatic to have the opportunity to provide scientific and technical guidance to brilliant scientists so that we can accelerate their ideas into the clinic.”

The scientists at MFCR will also take advantage of their experience working with contract research organizations and other industry partners to provide grantees access to state-of-the-art drug discovery and development capabilities.

Since 2017, MFCR has awarded over $95 million in grants to enable innovative basic, translational, and clinical cancer research, including early-stage drug discovery. MFCR also has a growing investment portfolio that includes drug discovery companies Accent Therapeutics (focused on RNA-modifying proteins implicated in cancer) and Verseau Therapeutics (developing macrophage-targeting immunotherapies), as well as liquid biopsy diagnostics companies C2i Genomics and GRAIL.

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