Collaboration to Develop Cancer Therapeutics

Harvard University has entered into an exclusive license and research collaboration agreement with Merck (known as MSD outside the United States and Canada) to further the development of small-molecule therapeutics for leukemia and other cancers. The novel compounds, developed in the laboratory of Harvard scientist Matthew Shair, offer an innovative approach to cancer treatment, targeting enzymes that regulate transcription.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common form of acute leukemia, with an estimated 20,800 new cases in the United States in 2015. Moreover, AML accounts for the largest number of leukemia-related deaths, with a five-year overall survival rate of only approximately 26 percent.

Shair, a professor in Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, has discovered a novel therapeutic strategy for treating AML, namely to inhibit enzymes that regulate the transcription of key genetic programs that are altered in AML and other cancers. With support from Harvard’s Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator, Shair’s laboratory has developed highly selective and potent small molecules, with favorable pharmaceutical properties, that are now poised for advancement toward clinical trials.