September 16, 2021

The Salk Institute and Sanford Burnham Prebys license ULK1/2 inhibitors to Endeavor BioMedicines for treatment of cancer

Salk News

The Salk Institute and Sanford Burnham Prebys license ULK1/2 inhibitors to Endeavor BioMedicines for treatment of cancer

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute, along with Sanford Burnham Prebys, have signed an exclusive licensing agreement with California-based Endeavor BioMedicines for an intellectual property portfolio relating to cancer therapeutics and diagnostics that target ULK1/2, a protein involved in cellular recycling, jointly developed by researchers at Salk and Sanford Burnham Prebys. The negotiations were led by the Salk Office of Technology Development and the Sanford Burnham Prebys Business Development Office.

“This line of anti-cancer research has the potential to have a significant impact for patients,” says Reuben Shaw, director of the Salk NCI-Designated Cancer Center, professor in Salk’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and the William R. Brody Chair. “We are thrilled that the benefits of our approach are being realized with this clinically important licensing agreement.”

In 2015, Shaw and his colleagues at Salk, working with Nicholas Cosford, professor and deputy director of the NCI-Designated Cancer Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys, demonstrated that by chemically blocking ULK1/2, they could shut down the cellular recycling pathway known as autophagy that some cancer cells use to stay alive. Autophagy breaks down unneeded or damaged cellular components into their building blocks to use for new cellular parts, which is critical for cells that are growing rapidly and don’t have enough nutrient supply, as do many cancers. The researchers found small molecule compounds that effectively blocked ULK1/2 and killed cancer cells, including human and mouse lung cancer cells and human pancreatic cancer cells.

“Since we initially discovered how cancer cells starved of nutrients activate ULK1/2, we focused on finding a drug that could block its activity,” says Cosford. “Using medicinal chemistry, chemical biology and rational drug design we have created this compound and are hopeful it will have an impact as an anti-cancer treatment. This agreement with Endeavor BioMedicines moves our efforts closer to helping people living with cancer.”

Over the better part of a decade, Salk and Sanford Burnham Prebys scientists collaborated to perform the early-stage research needed to translate their initial findings about ULK1/2 into improved drug candidates and clinically actionable observations to which cancers are most likely to respond. Inhibition of autophagy has emerged from a number of different research labs in the last few years as an excellent way to overcome therapeutic resistance to both chemotherapies and targeted therapies, and more recently in certain cases of immunotherapy resistance, as well.

Under the license agreement, Endeavor gains worldwide, exclusive rights to Salk and Sanford Burnham Prebys’ intellectual property of drug candidates, including a lead ULK1/2 inhibitor molecule that has now been through extensive preclinical and toxicity studies, as well as biomarkers that can help clinicians determine which cancer patients are most likely to benefit from drugs targeting ULK1/2. Endeavor plans to complete IND-enabling studies and advance the program into the clinic, initially in colorectal and lung cancers, in the next 18 months.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk’s mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology, plant biology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer’s, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin. Learn more at:

About Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute
Sanford Burnham Prebys is a preeminent, independent biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding human biology and disease and advancing scientific discoveries to profoundly impact human health. For more than 40 years, our research has produced breakthroughs in cancer, neuroscience, immunology and children’s diseases, and is anchored by our NCI-designated Cancer Center and advanced drug discovery capabilities. For more information, visit us at or on Facebook at and on Twitter @SBPdiscovery.

About Endeavor BioMedicines
Endeavor BioMedicines is a clinical-stage precision medicine company targeting the core drivers of multiple terminal diseases, including oncology and fibrosis. We combine advancements in technology with evolving understanding of terminal diseases to develop best-in-class medicines with the potential to reverse the most severe health conditions. Our lead program, ENV-101, is a Hedgehog signaling inhibitor with proven clinical activity that we are investigating in multiple cancers and in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. At Endeavor, we are a highly qualified, innovative and focused team that has come together to live up to our name and bold mission: to help patients feel better and live longer. Endeavor is supported by leading investors Omega Funds and Longitude Capital. More information is available at 

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