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Creating a premier oncology biotech company in Europe

Carrick Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, is taking an innovative approach to the research and development (R&D) of transformative oncology medicines. The founders of Carrick—which means ‘rock’ in Gaelic—steered away from building the company around a single asset or biological mechanism; instead, they chose to begin by building a strong network of like-minded scientists, collaborators and investors with a shared ambition to create Europe’s leading oncology biotech company.

The strategy has given Carrick Therapeutics the opportunity to seek out the best science for its innovative R&D pipeline, which focuses on the critical pathways that drive the most aggressive and resistant forms of cancer, in order to have a major impact on the lives of patients.

“Carrick is built on the linkages we have created between clinicians and scientists in internationally leading research institutes and hospitals, which have enabled us to bring really good science under one umbrella,” said Elaine Sullivan, experienced industry R&D leader and CEO of Carrick Therapeutics. “We have invested a lot of time in bringing together the right mix of expertise, cutting-edge science and a strong R&D engine.”

Fig. 1 | The catalytic pocket of cyclin-dependent kinase 7 (CDK7).

Carrick Therapeutics launched in 2016 with a $95 million funding round led by ARCH Venture Partners and Woodford Investment Management, with participation from Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds, Cambridge Innovation Capital, Evotec AG, GV and Lightstone Ventures.

The strong financial backing has enabled the company to make rapid headway, and its lead compound CT7001—a first-in-class orally bioavailable cyclin-dependent kinase 7 (CDK7)-selective inhibitor—has progressed to the clinic in record time (Fig. 1). Carrick Therapeutics is now ready to scale the company and is looking for new partners with compounds that target the key pathways in cancer progression and adaptive resistance.

Strong foundations

The company may be young but it is built on a wealth of experience. Carrick Therapeutics’ leadership team is highly accomplished with an outstanding track record of discovering and developing innovative cancer medicines. “It is this collective knowledge of biopharmaceutical development that makes Carrick very special and has driven the company’s development since we launched in October 2016,” said Sullivan.

The in-house team collaborates with a network of cancer experts, including Cancer Research UK, and pioneering researchers from several top universities, such as Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College London in the UK. It has also assembled a scientific advisory board of internationally recognized clinicians and scientists, chaired by Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford.

Carrick Therapeutics’ proven capability to develop a molecule from concept to the clinic rests on a strong R&D engine, which has been built using an outsourced partnership business model. Some 60 alliance agreements have been established with partners across the world, which provide access to expertise to support R&D, from target identification through to clinical trials. It is a capital-efficient approach that enables the company to select the best compounds rapidly, and to achieve clinical proof of concept efficiently and at a lower cost.

Proven capability

Carrick Therapeutics has reported excellent progress with its lead molecule, CT7001, which was developed from an in-licensed candidate drug (ICEC0942) to a phase 1 clinical program (first patient dosed in November 2017) in under 2 years.

ICEC0942 was invented at Imperial College London and was developed, in collaboration with Dennis Liotta at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), by a large, multidisciplinary research team headed by Charles Coombes and Simak Ali from the Department of Surgery & Cancer, and Tony Barrett from the Department of Chemistry. Imperial Innovations and its partner, Cancer Research Technology, then jointly licensed the technology package to Carrick Therapeutics.

A first-in-class oral CDK7 inhibitor, CT7001 inhibits regulation of the cell cycle, transcription activation of oncogenes and activation of hormone receptors via phosphorylation. CT7001 is effective in preclinical models of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer and transcriptionally driven cancers such as triple-negative breast cancer, acute myeloid leukemia and small-cell lung cancer. It is predicted to be efficacious in cases where resistance has developed to current therapies, and to involve once-a-day administration.

Preclinical safety testing demonstrated that the compound is well tolerated. Efficacy studies are planned to start in 2018 with an initial focus on the following indications: estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer that has become resistant to treatment, triple-negative breast cancer, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Carrick Therapeutics is also progressing other assets to the clinic, as well as continuing to build its portfolio of clinical and preclinical assets through partnering. “The blend of world-class cancer researchers, drug development experts and the life science sector’s leading investors makes Carrick Therapeutics a truly exciting company to work with,” said Sullivan.

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