In an effort to improve the success rate of investigational cancer
drugs entering clinical trials, the Center for Applied Cancer Science
(CACS) of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Merck and Co., Inc., have
established a collaboration to identify promising drug targets, and
develop therapeutic candidates to reach those targets.
"Currently, there is a 95 percent failure rate in cancer drug development," says Ronald DePinho, MD, of the CACS.
"Drugs that pass safety testing in Phase I trials too often fail to
show efficacy in later-stage trials, or prove effective in only a small
subset of patients."
The use of genomic information in identifying therapeutic targets and
appropriate trial designs requires the integration of genomics with
function, mechanism and, importantly, cancer biology, explains
Dana-Farber's Lynda Chin, MD, who will be the senior
investigator in the CACS-Merck alliance. "By actively facilitating
communication," says Chin, "this new agreement represents an important
advance toward true team science between Dana-Farber and one of world's
the leading pharmaceutical companies."
Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will provide up-front and
research support funding to the CACS as well as milestone and royalty
payments upon market approval. The CACS will investigate drug targets
using integrative and cross-species genomic analysis and stringent
multi-level functional and clinicopathological validation testing. The
CACS will work together with Merck to shepherd the drug assay
development of lead compound discovery and then work together to test
these drugs in CACS's highly sophisticated model systems that closely
replicate human disease.
The collaboration will also involve CACS faculty, under the direction of James DeCaprio, MD, and Kenneth Anderson, MD,
working together with scientists from Merck Research Laboratories, to
further evaluate tumor pathobiology and clinical outcomes to better
pinpoint the tumor types most susceptible to the drug.
Dana-Farber established the CACS, which is supported by the Robert A.
and Renée E. Belfer Foundation, in 2004. CACS is part of the Robert A.
and Renée E. Belfer Institute for Innovative Cancer Science, which also
houses the Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Center for Cancer Genomics.
The CACS consists of team scientists and core laboratory facilities
for identifying genetic alterations in cancer, pinpointing those
alterations most crucial to tumor formation and maintenance, validating
those targets in a wide range of cell and tissue cultures assays and
sophisticated animal models, and, in the case of monoclonal antibodies,
developing them into useful therapies. The CACS retains the right to
develop its antibodies independent of the Merck collaboration.
"Collaborations with external partners are an integral and essential
part of our oncology research and development strategy," says Stephen
Friend MD., PhD, senior vice president and franchise head, Oncology,
Merck Research Laboratories. "Through this collaboration with
Dana-Farber, one of the world's premier cancer centers, we hope to
establish an open and collaborative relationship through our common goal
of advancing cancer treatment."
Merck, established in 1891, is a global leader in the discovery,
development, manufacture, and marketing of vaccines and medicines. Its
products include treatments for conditions ranging from diabetes and
osteoporosis, to HIV infection and asthma.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org)
is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is
among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States.
It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center
(DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National