Astellas leans on U.K. luminaries for cancer R&D


Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma has teamed up with Cancer Research U.K. to join forces on early-stage oncology R&D, working to identify new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Under the two-year agreement, CRUK and its commercial division, Cancer Research Technology, will work alongside Astellas researchers to ferret out new drug targets for the disease. The group has its sights set on pathways that halt cancer growth by stopping it from feeding on healthy cells, planning to first identify and then validate novel methods for starving malignancies.

Astellas isn’t disclosing financial terms but said it will hold an exclusive license to any and all promising candidates that come out of the partnership, paying out milestones and royalties to CRUK along the way. If all goes according to plan, the company will be able to fortify its oncology pipeline, which, beyond the top-selling pancreatic cancer treatment Xtandi, is largely devoid of near-market assets.

The deal is part of Astellas’ broad effort to reshape its R&D machine under a 2013 initiative that gutted some of its internal operations and put a new emphasis on partnering. As part of the move, the company shut down its OSI Pharmaceuticals and Perseid Therapeutics subsidiaries, all the while scaling back its U.S.-headquartered research institute to focus solely on CNS treatments.

Now, a slimmer Astellas is taking an open-door approach to innovation, and the CRUK deal is a model for its new take on R&D, Chief Strategy Officer Kenji Yasukawa said.

“Since May 2013, Astellas has invited researchers from around the world to collaborate to increase drug discovery opportunities and expand development pipelines,” Yasukawa said in a statement. “The aim is to establish links with overseas researchers who have ideas that possess a high level of novelty and creativity.”

Beyond its ongoing work to expand the use of Xtandi, Astellas’ oncology pipeline includes the leukemia treatment ASP2215, the lung cancer candidate ASP8273 and an Amgen ($AMGN)-partnered therapy or gastric cancer dubbed AMG 337.

– read the statement