MD Anderson and Schrödinger announce strategic research collaboration to accelerate development of WEE1 program

Translational research will focus on advancing therapeutic strategies for Schrödinger’s selective WEE1 inhibitors to optimally benefit patients

 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Schrödinger, Inc. today announced a two-year strategic research collaboration focused on accelerating and optimizing the development of Schrödinger’s WEE1 inhibitor program, an investigational therapeutic approach designed to target the WEE1 kinase.

The collaboration brings together the translational research and drug development expertise of MD Anderson’s Therapeutics Discovery division with Schrödinger’s expertise and drug development program for WEE1 inhibitors. The goal of the collaboration is to accelerate and optimize the clinical development path for Schrödinger’s WEE1 program through molecular biomarker-driven tumor type prioritization and patient stratification and to validate biomarkers to predict response or resistance to a WEE1 inhibitor. The joint team will seek to prioritize clinical studies of a WEE1 inhibitor as a single agent in selected cancer indications and in rational combinations for defined clinical subpopulations. 

"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., executive vice president, chief biomedical scientist and head of discovery research and development at Schrödinger. "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. We believe this profile may position our compounds as ideal candidates for applications both as monotherapy and as combination therapy partners.”

Under the preclinical collaboration agreement, Schrödinger will join forces with researchers in MD Anderson's Translational Research to AdvanCe Therapeutics and Innovation in ONcology (TRACTION) platform, which leads cutting-edge translational biology research to rapidly position new therapies for clinical trials. TRACTION is a core component of MD Anderson’s Therapeutics Discovery division, an integrated team of clinicians, researchers and drug development experts working to advance impactful therapies that address patient needs.

"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 TRACTION at MD Anderson. “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.”

MD Anderson and Schrödinger will jointly pursue translational studies, and Schrödinger will provide research support funding. As part of the agreement, MD Anderson is eligible to receive certain payments based on the future development and commercialization of Schrödinger’s WEE1 inhibitor compounds. Schrödinger will have sole responsibility for the development, manufacture and commercialization of all compounds and products, and sole rights to all novel intellectual property that arises from this collaboration. 

WEE1 is a gatekeeper checkpoint kinase that prevents progression through the cell cycle, allowing time for DNA repair to occur before cell division takes place. Thus, inhibition of WEE1 allows for accumulation of DNA damage, triggering DNA breakage and apoptosis in tumor cells. Schrödinger is developing tight-binding, selective WEE1 inhibitors with optimized physicochemical properties designed to be well suited for combinations with other DNA damage response therapies for the treatment of a broad range of solid tumors.

Tumor organoids developed by the TRACTION platform to evaluate new therapies in vitro. Image courtesy Joseph Daniele, PH.D.