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AZ and Schering take novel approach in cancer collaboration

Published on 22/09/06 at 10:52am

AstraZeneca and Schering are to co-develop a promising new drug candidate to treat breast cancer, with the two partners taking a novel approach to their respective roles.

Under the terms of the agreement, AstraZeneca will lead the clinical development and Schering will take on the non-clinical and process development, as well as the manufacturing activities.

Co-development deals are now standard practice in the industry, and have helped to keep the pipelines of most leading pharma companies well stocked, and not completely dependent on in-house success.

Until recently, AstraZeneca was able to rely on its in-house resources more than other large pharma companies, but a succession of major late-stage drug candidate failures has now reversed that policy.

The deal is thought to be the first to divide up responsibility in this way, representing a new variant on how companies can work together to exploit their respective capabilities and minimise expenditure and risk.

The companies will co-promote the product in the major territories, and all development and commercialisation costs, as well as  the global profits, will be shared equally.

The molecule in question is a selective oestrogen receptor downregulator or SERD which could represent the next generation of hormonal treatments for breast cancer.

Growth and progression of many breast cancers are stimulated by the steroid hormone, oestrogen, and pharma's scientists have long understood that oestrogen receptors (ER) play a key part in controlling the hormone.

The field is one of the best understood in oncology, and several existing targeted approaches work by either inhibiting the ER or preventing the synthesis of oestrogen.

But resistance to anti-hormonal treatment is a major problem in breast cancer and most advanced tumours eventually become resistant to therapy. Selective oestrogen receptor downregulators are a new class of compounds with a novel mechanism of action and work by accelerating the breakdown of ER protein, which interacts with other chemicals to produce resistance in patients.

The companies say the SERD class could potentially be used as monotherapy for treatment of all stages of hormone-sensitive breast cancer or in combination with other targeted agents for the prevention and/or treatment of hormone-resistant disease.

"The development of agents that selectively down regulate the oestrogen receptor is an exciting and important advance in the treatment of breast cancer.

This novel SERD has the potential to offer a specific and targeted therapy approach for women with breast cancer," said Peter Zundorf, head of Schering oncology business unit.

"We look forward to the collaboration with AstraZeneca. This collaboration reinforces our strong commitment to oncology. It is our intention to fully exploit this innovative compound and to maximise its value with joint forces," he concluded.

The molecule was discovered by Schering, which has a relatively small presence in the oncology field, but is now looking to increase its stake in the therapy area.

Handing over development duties to AstraZeneca makes perfect sense for Schering, as the Anglo-Swedish company's greatest successes have been in the field of breast cancer. AstraZeneca discovered the current gold standard hormone-based treatment for breast cancer, tamoxifen, in the 1960s, and the company's newer hormone treatment Arimidex is poised to supercede it as a first-line choice for the disease.

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