San Diego’s MEI Pharma (NASDAQ: MEIP) has agreed to pay $2.9 million upfront to Seattle-based Presage Biosciences for exclusive worldwide rights for the anti-cancer drug candidate voruciclib, which has shown some promise in a small, early stage study of patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Additional payments could eventually add another $181 million if MEI can meet developmental, regulatory, and commercial milestones.
In a statement late Tuesday, MEI Pharma describes voruciclib as a selective cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor, a class of drugs used to treat certain cancers by preventing cancer cells from proliferating. In many cancers, CDKs spur cancer cells to over-proliferate, or CDK-inhibiting proteins are not functional.
According to MEI Pharma, voruciclib selectively blocks the activity of CDK9 and suppresses the protein MCL1, which can act to help cancer cells survive and even to resist certain anti-cancer drugs.
The FDA has approved two CDK inhibitors, palbociclib (Ibrance) and ribociclib (Kisqali), which are used to treat certain types of breast cancer. The agency recently granted priority review of a third drug, abemaciclib.
In the statement, Presage chairman David Johnson says the deal with MEI “enables us to focus our attention on identifying and advancing additional drug candidates.”