Cambridge – Amongst the historic colleges and cloistered walls of one of the world’s oldest universities there is pioneering research going on, and not only that, it’s potentially being translated into potential new cancer treatments.
Dr Laura Itzhaki (Twitter: @LauraItzhaki) is professor of structural pharmacology at the University of Cambridge. She is also founder and chief scientific officer of a start-up biotech company, which is focused on the discovery and development of a new class of drugs called polyproxin molecules.
University of Cambridge
Prof Itzhaki’s research is the basis of the science and intellectual property behind PolyProx Therapeutics, and the company earlier this year received £3.4 million in seed financing. This may not be a huge deal in US terms, where we’ve seen some truly mind blowing Series A financing rounds for start-up cell therapy companies, but it’s not inconsequential in UK terms. We’ve also seen with today’s £100M Series B funding announcement for Stevenage based Achilles Therapeutics (whom we profiled a year ago) that early stage UK companies can indeed go on to big things.
Basic science is the backbone of cancer research – let’s not forget that translating the new discoveries into the clinic is how new products are developed and it’s exciting to see an increasing number academics take the next step on that journey.
During a visit to Cambridge this year, Prof Itzhaki kindly spoke with BSB about her research and the direction PolyProx hopes to travel. It’s very early stages for the company, yet it’s a story we very much look forward to following, and one I expect we will hear more from, as other companies look to partner with them in the future….
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In our ECCO Preview series last year (note: ESMO and ECCO have alternated the EU major cancer conference in the Fall for years), we highlighted several promising novel agents in development including the following:
- StemCentRx’s anti-DLL3 inhibitor: rovalpituzumab tesirine (ROVA-T)
- Ignyta’s Pan Trk, ROS1 and ALK inhibitor: entrectinib
- Pfizer’s anti-NOTCH3 inhibitor: PF–06650808
- Pfizer’s PTK7 ADC in TNBC: PF–06647020
What happened to them all? Were they good selections or not?
Well, AbbVie acquired StemCentRx in a $10.2B deal, Ignyta are busy advertising their new clinical trial enrollment for entrectinib as a non-chemotherapy and non-placebo controlled study on social media, suggesting that compound’s clinical development is still very much alive, while both the Pfizer compounds are also still active, as far as I know.
None have yet been consigned to dog drug heaven, which is quite something considering the failure rate in oncology drug pipelines!
Indeed, last year the Pfizer PTK7 ADC data was focused on triple negative breast cancer, where there is a solid rationale. This time around, the same research group explore the latest activity in advanced solid tumours, including ovarian cancer, as mentioned in the earlier Preview (See: 9 key abstracts in Ovarian Cancer).
So it’s time to sit down and chew the fat on one of my favourite topics at conferences – Development Therapeutics.
Here we consider which other compounds – other than the Pfizer ADC – that are worthy of highlighting and watching out for this year?
There are certainly some curious and quite different (i.e. novel) approaches to look at.
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Sometimes you get lucky before a conference and catch an interview with a thought leader ahead of time when it’s more relaxed and less fraught with all the demands of meetings etc while there.
Dr R Young, Source: WI
That good fortune happened to me on the Friday before the recent AACR conference in San Diego, when I recorded an interview with Dr Richard Young, (Whitehead Institute & MIT and scientific co-founder of Syros), who was giving a plenary talk on the Sunday at AACR entitled, “Transcriptional and Epigenetic Control of Tumor Cells.”
Epigenetics and transcriptional changes are fascinating concepts to me because they get right to the heart of what’s going on deep in the oncogenes and how they control processes in cancer. Clearly, in simplistic terms, if we can understand how things change and evolve, then we can potentially devise better strategies to overcome them. Instead of targeting a protein kinase with a small molecule or a cell surface antigen with a monocloncal antibody, this is an altogether different approach. Protein-protein interactions such as MYC, RUNX1, p53/TP53 etc have long been the bugbear and frustration of many good researchers, precisely because they are challenging to target with conventional approaches.
So what’s new and why am I really excited about these new developments?
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