Venture

Cambridge spinout CellCentric gets $26M for single-asset epigenetics approach to prostate cancer

Can a biotech developing an epigenetics drug squeeze into J&J and Pfizer’s turf fight in prostate cancer? Cambridge, UK-based CellCentric now has $26 million to find out.

Morningside Venture Investments provided all of the funding, continuing to throw its weight behind UK-based CellCentric’s lead and only asset, CCS1477. The money is expected to carry the p300/CBP inhibitor through Phase IIb in prostate cancer and allow the small virtual team to establish separate programs in hematological or other cancers.

“The idea is to stay very asset centric, very focused on one program, but look for multiple opportunities now to use it,” CEO Will West tells me.

Jason Dinges

And he’s confident CCS1477 is the asset to center around. As recently as five years ago, CellCentric was a “knowledge company” that helped other companies explore epigenetic pathways and cellular reprogramming. When it transitioned into an R&D operation in 2013 — thanks to major support from Morningside — the team hand picked p300/CBP out of 50 potential epigenetic-related drug targets.

Given the role of hormones in fueling prostate cancer cell growth, androgen receptors are a popular target for drug developers — but even second generation anti-androgen treatments have proven susceptible to resistance. Downregulating the twin targets of p300/CBP, West explains, drives down not only androgen receptors but also all its variants. That positions them as a follow up, companion, or even possible replacement for blockbusters like J&J’s Zytigo and Erleada as well as Pfizer/Astellas’ Xtandi.

“For the prostate indication, it’s very clear and clean what we’re trying to do,” West says.

While CellCentric’s drug belongs to the BET inhibitor family, it’s distinct in both its specificity and (based upon preclinical studies) duration of effect — allowing for flexibility in dosing schedule, which is “absolutely key.” That means while the current plan is for patients to take the oral capsule once a day, they could switch to an intermittent schedule or a “three week on, one week off holiday approach” if necessary.

The prostate cancer clinical program is slated to begin this summer. By the end of the year West hopes to have a hematological cancer program running, with particular focus on acute myeloid leukemia and multiple myeloma. Looking down the road, he also sees the drug treating sub-populations of bladder cancer and small cell lung cancer patients.

West has four colleagues spread between Cambridge, Oxford and Manchester to manage 10 times as many consultants working on the drug. And he doesn’t see the core team changing much — unless a bigger player comes in to snap them up.

For now, Newton, MA-based Morningside continues to be CellCentric’s largest shareholder, followed by Providence Investment Company.

“Oncology product development is highly competitive. There are few genuine first-in-class new drug opportunities which have a large but specific patient population to treat,” said Morningside’s Jason Dinges, who’s also on CellCentric’s board. “We are delighted to support the CellCentric team with their continued momentum.”


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