WEHI and Boehringer Ingelheim partner to develop innovative cancer drugs

WEHI has partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim, a leading research-driven pharmaceutical company, in a collaboration to discover and develop anti-cancer therapeutics using a promising new technology called targeted protein degradation.

The partnership builds on more than 25 years of pioneering discoveries at WEHI, into a family of proteins known as the inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs) and their role in cell death.

The collaboration between WEHI and Boehringer Ingelheim will bring the two organisations’ combined expertise in the biology and therapeutic targeting of IAPs, protein degradation and drug discovery to target cancer-causing proteins.

Using the innovative targeted protein degradation approach, IAPs can be harnessed to target disease-causing proteins for destruction. Targeted protein degradation dramatically expands the field of proteins that could potentially be targeted by a therapeutic, by removing, rather than inhibiting, specific proteins.

At a glance

  • WEHI and Boehringer Ingelheim, a leading research-driven biopharmaceutical company have established a partnership to develop new drugs for cancer.
  • The collaborative research project will target cancer-causing proteins through targeted protein degradation by leveraging the function of inhibitor of apoptosis proteins (IAPs).
  • Academic-industry partnerships hold immense potential for translation of research discoveries into new treatments for patients.

Collaboration to ‘drug the undruggable’

Visualisation of molecules and proteins

In the Targeted Protein Degradation approach, a small drug

molecule (pink, centre) is developed that can destroy a

disease-causing protein (orange, left) by bringing it into

proximity with part of the cell’s protein recycling machinery

(multicoloured, right), such as an IAP protein.

Image generated by Dr Michael Roy using UCSF ChimeraX

Targeted protein degradation is an exciting technology that is gaining momentum globally as a disruptive new approach for drug discovery. The technology uses existing protein recycling machinery within the cell to destroy a particular disease-causing protein of interest. In contrast, traditional drug discovery uses small molecule inhibitors to bind to proteins and block their action and is limited in its application to proteins with specific characteristics.

Professor John Silke, who is leading the joint research team at WEHI, said Boehringer Ingelheim had extensive experience in drug discovery and development, making it the perfect partner in this project.

“We believe that together, we can apply this innovative IAP-based approach to a number of ‘undruggable’ disease targets that have proven intractable to more traditional drug discovery approaches. It also leverages the drug discovery capabilities of the National Drug Discovery Centre at WEHI, enabling the translation of WEHI research into new treatments for cancer,” Professor Silke said.

Corporate Senior Vice President and Global Head of Discovery Research at Boehringer Ingelheim Dr Clive Wood said he was looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.

“By combining WEHI’s scientific leadership on the IAP family of proteins with Boehringer Ingelheim’s focus on targeted protein degradation, we have the potential to bring medicines to patients that target and destroy the proteins directly responsible for cancer cell growth. I am excited to be working together with our partners at WEHI to accelerate advancing this innovation to patients,” he said.

Academic-industry partnership

WEHI Head of Biotechnology and Commercialisation Dr Anne-Laure Puaux said the two organisations structured a sophisticated and mutually beneficial deal that established key business principles and laid the foundations for a strong relationship.

“This exciting collaborative program is a testament to our ability to work together with global industry partners to deliver potential ‘first-in-class’ drug candidates. Academic-industry partnerships hold immense potential for translating research discoveries into new treatments for patients,” she said.

The three-year collaborative project will be conducted under the direction of a joint steering committee, leveraging existing capabilities and expertise within WEHI and Boehringer Ingelheim. Post collaboration, Boehringer Ingelheim will be responsible for clinical development, regulatory approvals, and commercial activities, while WEHI will receive milestone payments and royalties on sales. Financial terms of the collaboration remain undisclosed.


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