Cancer Research Horizons and Newcastle University announce alliance extension with Astex Pharmaceuticals (UK)

Published date:
November 22 2022

Cancer Research UK’s newly launched innovation engine, Cancer Research Horizons*, and Newcastle University, have announced a further significant extension of their strategic drug discovery alliance with Astex Pharmaceuticals (UK) (‘Astex’), a biotechnology company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel small molecule therapeutics. 

The alliance will continue to focus on the discovery of potential new cancer drugs with associated biomarkers, providing an innovative route to the development of more effective cancer medicines. 

The agreement signed between the three parties will extend their current alliance by a further 5 years, which, if carried to term, will result in a continuous strategic drug discovery alliance spanning 15 years**. Cumulatively this will be one of Cancer Research UK’s longest running translational collaborations with a relationship spanning nearly 20 years.  

Not enough promising treatments are reaching cancer patients fast enough, with many discoveries stalling in the translational gap.  

Building stronger bridges between academic researchers and industry is vital for making sure that there is a route for potentially useful compounds to be progressed to the next stages of drug development and eventually into treatments for patients.  

The alliance brings together world-leading researchers in structural and cellular biology, and medicinal chemistry with the innovative small molecule fragment-based drug discovery*** and development capabilities of Astex, in order to speed up promising discoveries making it out of the lab and into the clinic. 

The existing alliance portfolio includes multiple projects across target validation and early-stage hit-identification, with projects progressing towards the more advanced stages of pre-clinical development.  

This multi-project alliance has proven to be a powerful approach to innovative drug discovery. The alliance has already resulted in the identification of an MDM2-p53 antagonist compound (ASTX295) which has entered clinical evaluation.  This builds on the success of a previous collaboration between Astex, Newcastle and Cancer Research UK on evaluating inhibitors of the Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor tyrosine kinase family, a key cancer target that ultimately led to the development of a first-in-class medicine ****. 

Under the terms of the alliance agreement, Astex retains the right to an exclusive worldwide licence to take the most promising projects forward into pre-clinical and clinical drug development. Cancer Research Horizons and Newcastle University are eligible to receive milestone and royalty payments on any compounds that make it into clinical development and onto the market. 

Dr Iain Foulkes, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Research Horizons, said: “The extension of this alliance is a testament to the long-running success of the efforts of all three partners over nearly 20 years of existing collaboration. We are excited to see that this alliance will continue on under our new organisation, Cancer Research Horizons, which will provide the scale, agility and access to commercial expertise that any partner needs to accelerate promising discoveries out of the lab and into the hands of patients.” 

Dr David Rees, Chief Scientific Officer of Astex Pharmaceuticals (UK) said: “Our strategic alliance with Newcastle and CRT is an important and successful collaboration for Astex. We are excited to extend our alliance to discover novel compounds to take forward into development.”        

Steve Wedge, Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Research Horizons and Professor of Stratified Cancer Medicine Discovery at Newcastle University, said: "This major academic-industry collaboration has had genuine success, and I am delighted to see it continue to build on the impressive track record of all partners. Risk-sharing partnerships like this allow us to bring together complementary expertise and enable us to maximise the development of our world-class research into cancer treatments." 

For media enquiries contact Ellie Bennett in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 5370 or, out of hours, on 020 3469 8301.   

Notes to editor

*Cancer Research Horizons is a powerful innovation engine built to complement Cancer Research UK’s network of (4000) exceptional researchers. Bringing together world-leading minds, bold ideas and the right partners, we take cutting edge innovations from the lab bench to the bedside, translating them into effective treatments and diagnostics for cancer patients.    

To date, we’ve played an instrumental role in forming over 60 spin-out companies and bringing 11 new cancer drugs to market, borne out of our pioneering research.  We are the second biggest oncology out-licensor globally and are part of Cancer Research UK – the world’s largest medical research charity. We have exclusive rights to over £400 million of world-class cancer research each year and work closely with academia and industry to bridge the gap between research and the market, delivering maximum impact for patients. 

**The alliance was initially set up under Cancer Research UK’s commercialisation organisation, known as Cancer Research Technology, which is now Cancer Research Horizons. 

***Fragment-based drug discovery (FBDD) is a powerful method to develop potent small-molecule compounds starting from small chemical fragments of drug compounds that bind very weakly but precisely into the biological drug target.  That weak binding can be detected using a range of biophysical methods, including x-ray crystallography, and then using structure-based drug design to grow the fragment into more potent and selective lead compounds with higher affinity. 

****The parties’ first project collaboration was set up in 2004 to evaluate the potential utility of FGFR inhibitors to treat certain cancers using cancer cell lines and models.  A later drug discovery collaboration among the parties focused on the discovery of more selective FGFR inhibitors.  Astex subsequently entered into a drug discovery collaboration and license agreement on FGFR inhibitors with Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V which ultimately resulted in the identification of erdafitinib (BALVERSA®), that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019 for the treatment of patients for the treatment of adults with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma (mUC) which has susceptible fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR)3 or FGFR2 genetic alterations and who have progressed during or following at least one line of prior platinum-containing chemotherapy, including within 12 months of neoadjuvant or adjuvant platinum-containing chemotherapy. 

About Cancer Research UK     

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research, influence and information.  

  • Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.   

  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.   

  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK wants to accelerate progress and see 3 in 4 people surviving their cancer by 2034.  

  • Cancer Research UK supports research into the prevention and treatment of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.  

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About Astex Pharmaceuticals (UK) 

Astex is a leader in innovative drug discovery and development, committed to the fight against cancer and diseases of the central nervous system. Astex is developing a proprietary pipeline of novel therapies and has a number of partnered products being developed under collaborations with leading pharmaceutical companies. Astex is a wholly owned subsidiary of Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., based in Tokyo, Japan. 

For more information about Astex Pharmaceuticals, please visit 

For more information about Otsuka Pharmaceutical, please visit 


About Newcastle University  

Newcastle University, UK, is a thriving international community of more than 28,000 students from over 130 countries worldwide.   

As a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities in the UK, Newcastle has a world-class reputation for research excellence in the fields of medicine, science and engineering, social sciences and the humanities.   

Its academics are sharply focused on responding to the major challenges facing society today. Research and teaching are world-leading in areas as diverse as health, culture, technology and the environment.   

Newcastle is committed to providing students with excellent, research-led teaching delivered by dedicated and passionate teachers.    

Newcastle University is ranked 122nd in the QS World Ranking 2023 and joint 139th in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2022.  

Newcastle University is ranked first in the UK and eighth in the world for sustainable development in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022.