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Cancer Research UK Signs Deal With Centella Therapeutics, Inc. to Launch Clinical Development of Radiotherapy-Enhancing Drug

PALO ALTO, Calif. and LONDON, May 25, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Cancer Research UK and Cancer Research Technology - the charity's development and commercialisation arm – have partnered with Centella Therapeutics, Inc. of Palo Alto, California, to develop, manufacture and trial a promising new drug, CEN-209 in cancer patients with solid tumours.  

CEN-209*, discovered at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre and exclusively licensed to Centella from Auckland Uniservices Ltd. of New Zealand, is designed to provide benefit when used together with radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat solid tumours. CEN-209 is the seventh drug candidate to enter Cancer Research UK's Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP) scheme.  (See related press release: Centella Therapeutics Licenses Novel New Drug Designed to Enhance the Effectiveness of Cancer Treatment, May 23, 2011).

CEN-209 has the potential to destroy the areas of tumours which are low in oxygen – or hypoxic. Tumour cells become hypoxic because the blood vessels supplying them with nutrients and oxygen are often weak, twisted and ineffective due to the rapid growth of the tumour.  

Cancer cells that are hypoxic are more resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy and often survive such treatment. By destroying the hypoxic part of tumours with CEN-209 in parallel to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it is hoped that this combination treatment will be more effective.

CDP is a joint initiative between Cancer Research UK's Drug Development Office and Cancer Research Technology, to develop promising anti-cancer agents from companies that are not able to take them through early phase clinical trials themselves. The CDP scheme allows companies to retain the background rights to their programmes while enabling Cancer Research UK to take on early development work to assess if there is a potential benefit to cancer patients. Two drugs from the CDP initiative are already in early phase trials.

CEN-209 is currently in pre-clinical development. Under the terms of the partnership, Cancer Research UK's Drug Development Office will complete pre-clinical development of the drug and take it through the first Phase I clinical trial, which will be conducted through the charity's Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres.

After the Phase I trial Centella will have the exclusive option to buy back the clinical trial data and conduct further clinical studies towards approval of CEN-209.  If Centella doesn't exercise its option, the rights to the programme will be transferred to Cancer Research Technology to secure an alternative partner with the goal of making it possible for the drug to reach cancer patients.  

Dr. Thorsten Melcher, president of Centella, said: "We are very pleased to work in this public-private partnership with the experts from Cancer Research UK to advance CEN-209. The drug development experience of Cancer Research UK is very well respected and critical to evaluate the potential of CEN-209 for attacking hypoxic tumours for which few effective treatments are available today. Centella is particularly excited to launch this important project that may make radiotherapy even more effective, and to do it in the year that the United Kingdom has dedicated to raising awareness for radiotherapy."

2011 was designated "The Year of Radiotherapy" in the UK, to help raise awareness of the treatment and highlight the progress made over the last century.

Dr. Ian Walker, senior licensing manager at Cancer Research UK's Drug Development Office, said: "Through this exciting partnership, we are taking a completely new drug which could treat a range of cancer types into clinical trials - bringing new hope for thousands of future cancer patients.

"We hope that the drug will enhance the effectiveness of radiotherapy, which is an incredibly important way to treat cancer as over 40 per cent of cancer patients in the UK and 60 percent in the U.S. receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment. We hope that finding new ways to increase its effectiveness through new drugs – such as CEN-209 – will help improve survival from a range of cancers," Walker said.

Dr. Nigel Blackburn, Director of Drug Development at Cancer Research UK's Drug Development Office said: "The further development of this drug may not have been possible without the CDP initiative - which shows how we work with industry to develop new treatments – and we hope to continue to develop partnerships with the ultimate aim to license new treatments."

Notes to editors: * CEN-209 was rationally designed and preclinically validated as an improved analogue of the hypoxia-targeted prodrug tirapazamine. Please see related press release with additional detail about the development of CEN-209.

Clinical Development Partnerships (CDP)CDP is a joint initiative between Cancer Research UK's Drug Development Office and Cancer Research Technology. It aims to increase the number of successful new treatments for cancer by taking undeveloped anti-cancer agents from industry and putting them into clinical trials.

About Cancer Research TechnologyCancer Research Technology Limited (CRT) is a specialist commercialisation and development company, which aims to develop new discoveries in cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients. CRT works closely with leading international cancer scientists and their institutes to protect intellectual property arising from their research and to establish links with commercial partners. CRT facilitates the discovery, development and marketing of new cancer therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics and enabling technologies. CRT is wholly owned by Cancer Research UK, one of the largest independent funders of cancer research in the world.  CRT's discovery laboratories build on exploratory research to create attractive commercial opportunities through collaboration with research institutes worldwide. Therapeutic programmes are then out-licensed for further development following identification of a suitable partner.

For more information visit

About Cancer Research UK's Drug Development OfficeCancer Research UK has an impressive record of developing novel treatments for cancer. It currently has a portfolio of around 36 new anti-cancer agents in preclinical development, phase I or early phase II clinical trials. Since 1982, the Cancer Research UK Drug Development Office has taken over 100 potential new anti-cancer agents into clinical trials in patients, five of which have made it to market and many others are still in clinical development. These include Temozolomide, a drug discovered by Cancer Research UK scientists, that is an effective new treatment for brain cancer. Six other drugs are in late development phase III trials. This rate of success is comparable to that of any pharmaceutical company.

About Centella TherapeuticsCentella Therapeutics, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Varian Medical Systems, Inc. (NYSE: VAR). Varian, headquartered globally in Palo Alto, California, is the world's leading manufacturer of medical devices and software for treating cancer and other medical conditions with radiotherapy. Centella, which was previously known as Centella biotechnologies, inc., is a dedicated enterprise focused on discovery and development of cancer treatments at the intersection of radiotherapy and pharmaceutical therapeutics.   Centella's mission is to develop a portfolio of drugs with a focus on enhancing the effectiveness of radiotherapy, making Centella the first Radiation Oncology Biotechnology company.

Centella is the exclusive licensee of CEN-209 and related technology from Auckland Uniservices Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of University of Auckland, located in Auckland, New Zealand.
In the licensing transaction with Centella, Auckland Uniservices acted on behalf of the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, an operating unit of the University.

About the ECMC networkCancer Research UK and the Departments of Health in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland launched a network of 19 Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC) across the UK in April 2007, in a 35 million pounds Sterling, five-year investment. Each ECMC brings together lab-based experts in cancer biology with cancer doctors to speed up the flow of ideas from the lab bench to the patient's bedside. Find out more at

About Cancer Research UKCancer Research UK is one of the world's leading cancer charities dedicated to saving lives through research.

  • The charity's groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.  This work is funded entirely by the public.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last forty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.

  • For further information about Cancer Research UK, visit

    Centella/Varian Medical SystemsEmma Rigby, 020 3469 8300

    Meryl Ginsberg,

    SOURCE Varian Medical Systems
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