The status of Schrödinger’s cat may be up in the air, but Schrödinger’s computational drug discovery platform is certainly still alive and kicking.
Among the works in progress in the New York City-based digital molecule designer’s pipeline is a WEE1 inhibitor, a drug-like molecule that targets the WEE1 enzyme with an aim of stopping cancer cells from strengthening and replicating.
To help that work along, Schrödinger has locked in a two-year research collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center. Oncology researchers from MD Anderson will help identify the patient populations—categorized by cancer type and individual genetic makeup—that are predicted to respond the best to WEE1 inhibitors.
“We are excited to work with MD Anderson’s researchers to speed the development of our WEE1 program and potentially advance a new therapeutic option for patients,” said Karen Akinsanya, Ph.D., Schrödinger’s chief biomedical scientist and head of discovery research and development. “We have identified multiple highly selective WEE1 inhibitors with desirable drug-like properties that show strong pharmacodynamic responses and anti-tumor activity in preclinical models.”
The WEE1 enzyme is known as a gatekeeper, since it blocks damaged cells from replicating, giving them time to conduct DNA repair before proceeding with the cell division process. Inhibiting the WEE1 mechanism in cancer patients, then, will maintain damage in tumor cells, potentially leading to DNA breakage and cell death rather than metastasis.
Schrödinger and MD Anderson will study their identified WEE1 inhibitor molecules as both standalone treatments and as part of combination therapies, Akinsanya said. Along with using certain biomarkers to select the patient populations and tumor types that will be best served by the molecules, the researchers will also be identifying and validating biomarkers that predict response or resistance to WEE1 inhibitors.
“Targeting WEE1, a critical gatekeeper of the cell cycle, is showing promise as a therapeutic strategy for treating certain cancers with select genetic alterations,” said Timothy Heffernan, Ph.D., executive director of MD Anderson’s TRACTION translational biology research platform. “Through our collaboration with Schrödinger, we aim to identify clinically relevant patient populations that may benefit from WEE1 inhibition and to advance innovative targeted therapies that can improve their lives.”
The research partnership will be funded by Schrödinger. It’ll provide an undisclosed amount to support the joint development of biomarker-driven WEE1 inhibitors, as well as additional milestone payments to MD Anderson as it continues to help Schrödinger usher the molecular compounds through clinical trials and commercialization.
The manufacturing and commercialization processes, meanwhile, will fall under the purview of Schrödinger alone, which will also maintain sole rights to all of the intellectual property to come out of its partnership with MD Anderson.