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Department of Biochemistry

Department of Biochemistry news archive

Astex is now celebrating its first cancer drug.


The first experiments of Astex, a start-up company founded by Tom Blundell, Chris Abell and Harren Jhoti, were carried out in the Department of Biochemistry in 1999 under a University agreement. 

After eighteen years, Astex is now celebrating its first cancer drug which has received US marketing approval. This drug, called Kisqali (ribociclib, LLE011), was developed in collaboration with Novartis. It is a first-line drug for HR+/HER2-advanced breast cancer in combination with an aromatase inhibitor, Letrozole. 

Astex solved the structure of the key cancer target CDK4, which had not been previously achieved, and this was followed by a strategic collaboration with Novartis under which the scientists jointly developed and optimised the chemical structure of the lead compound developed using fragment-based drug discovery. Kisqali was then progressed through clinical trials by Novartis, with phase 3 being completed last November. The combination therapy has shown significant clinical benefit in all patient sub-groups when compared with Letrozole alone.

The University was given shares by the Founders of Astex but Cambridge Enterprise also made investments in the company in the early stages of its development.


Tom Blundell

Publication date

30 March 2017