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New partnership with Astex Pharmaceuticals to accelerate progress in dementia research

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We are delighted to announce a new strategic partnership with Astex Pharmaceuticals alongside the funding of two new projects. With translation as a core priority of the UK DRI’s science vision, the collaboration aims to identify and validate novel pathways and drug targets for neurodegenerative disease – the first step in what may ultimately lead to transformative new treatments for dementia.

Around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, and the number of people affected will continue to grow as the population ages. With no effective treatments currently available for any of the neurodegenerative conditions that give rise to dementia, this new partnership provides hope for the development of new drugs to transform treatment for people with dementia.

Astex, a subsidiary of Otsuka Pharmaceutical, has a strong track record in discovering drugs for patient populations of high unmet medical need. Its technology platform (Pyramid™) has used a fragment-based drug discovery approach to successfully generate multiple new drug candidates for cancer. Some of these drugs have been discovered and developed in partnership with leading pharmaceuticals companies, including the marketed products Kisqali from Astex’s collaboration with Novartis and Balversa from its collaboration with Janssen. Astex’s drug discovery platform is now being applied to multiple neurodegenerative disease targets.

We’re thrilled to partner with Astex and excited by their commitment to novel neurodegeneration therapeutics. In addition to the financial investment in discovery science, the researchers will benefit from industry expertise, guidance and resources. Dr Kay Penicud, UK DRI Director of Business and Innovation

The first phase of this exciting new partnership kicks off with two UK DRI research projects, run by Group Leaders Prof David Klenerman (UK DRI at Cambridge) and Dr Veronique Miron (UK DRI at Edinburgh). Astex has committed an investment of over £1m for this first round of projects if they are successful.

Prof Klenerman’s work focuses on the role of signalling pathways involved in inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Dr Miron will look at the function of oligodendrocytes – the myelin producing cells in the brain – in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.

David Klenerman Veronique Miron Astex

Dr Kay Penicud, UK DRI Director of Business and Innovation, said:

“We’re thrilled to partner with Astex and excited by their commitment to novel neurodegeneration therapeutics. In addition to the financial investment in discovery science, the researchers will benefit from industry expertise, guidance and resources. We firmly believe strategic collaborations like this will energise the drug discovery pipeline for neurodegenerative diseases.”

Dr David Rees, Chief Scientific Officer at Astex Pharmaceuticals, said:

"We are very excited about this opportunity to work with the UK DRI, with Prof Klenerman, and Dr Miron. Astex has a long tradition of effective collaborations between academia and industry which we believe is critical for the successful translation of basic science. This partnership aims to support ground-breaking research with the potential to transform the lives of patients with neurodegenerative diseases."

Dr Veronique Miron, UK DRI Group Leader at Edinburgh and a recipient of the first round of funding from Astex, said:

My team and I are grateful to Astex for allowing us to build this exciting collaboration, elucidating mechanisms contributing to dementia by investigating the ways in which myelin – an insulating membrane that forms around nerve cells – is implicated in dementia. We hope this project will not only deepen our understanding of the ways in which myelin changes in the context of dementia, but also reveal new therapeutic targets and strategies to support cognitive health with ageing and disease.”

Prof David Klenerman, UK DRI Group Leader at Cambridge, whose project is also being funded by Astex, said:

“I am delighted and excited to start this collaborative project with Astex. Our works suggest that inflammation plays a critical role in how neurodegeneration begins to spread through the brain. By working with Astex, we hope to gain new insights into the molecular mechanisms by which the build up of protein triggers brain inflammation, and also find new drug targets to reduce or prevent it in dementia.”



The new collaboration with Astex follows the establishment of two previous industry partnerships with Eisai and Eli Lilly. Find out more about the UK DRI’s translational strategy and activities on our dedicated ‘translation and innovation’ webpage.


Article published: 6 April 2022

Banner image: Shutterstock/ Juan Gaertner

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