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.”

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Kristen Hege, Bristol Myers Squibb SVP, early clinical development, oncology/hematology and cell therapy (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: Bris­tol My­er­s' Kris­ten Hege on cell ther­a­py, can­cer pa­tients and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

Kristen Hege leads Bristol Myers Squibb’s early oncology discovery program carrying on from the same work at Celgene, which was acquired by BMS in 2019. She’s known for her early work in CAR-T, having pioneered the first CAR-T cell trial for solid tumors more than 25 years ago.

However, the eminent physician-scientist is more than just a drug developer mastermind. She’s also a practicing physician, mother to two young women, an avid backpacker and intersecting all those interests — a champion of young women and people of color in STEM and life sciences.

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Gossamer Bio CEO Faheem Hasnain at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Gos­samer’s Fa­heem Has­nain de­fends a round of pos­i­tive PAH da­ta as a clear win. But can these PhII re­sults stand up to scruti­ny?

Gossamer Bio $GOSS posted a statistically significant improvement for its primary endpoint in the key Phase II TORREY trial for lead drug seralutinib on Tuesday morning. But CEO Faheem Hasnain has some explaining to do on the important secondary of the crucial six-minute walk distance test — which will be the primary endpoint in Phase III — as the data on both endpoints fell short of expectations, missing one analyst’s bar on even modest success.

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Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Bob Duggan, Summit Therapeutics co-CEO

Bounc­ing from ma­jor set­back, Sum­mit hands out $500M cash for can­cer drug — thanks to a loan from bil­lion­aire CEO

After hitting a dead end with Summit Therapeutics’ lead program, Bob Duggan has found the drug that he believes will usher into a compelling second act. So compelling, in fact, that it involves $500 million cash — and he’s taking money out of his own pocket to fund the deal.

Striking a partnership with Akeso Therapeutics out of China, Summit is bringing in a bispecific antibody that blocks both PD-1 and VEGF called ivonescimab. Akeso, which has a PD-1/CTLA-4 bispecific approved in China, has already taken ivonescimab into multiple clinical trials, including a Phase III in lung cancer.

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Jay Lichter, Arialys Therapeutics CEO (Avalon Ventures)

Scoop: Aval­on, MPM back new CNS biotech with sci­en­tif­ic chops from Astel­las

A preclinical central nervous system biotech is in the works in La Jolla, CA, and the drug developer has reeled in capital from a syndicate of investors, Endpoints News has learned.

Arialys Therapeutics filed incorporation documents in the Golden State last December and applied its name for trademark protection with the US Patent and Trademark Office the week prior to that. Paperwork with the SEC also outlines plans to offer up equity in exchange for $55 million.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Phar­mas lay off Twit­ter ads for an­oth­er week; WPP un­cov­ers LGBTQ+ mar­ket­ing find­ings

When Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk tweeted this weekend, “Just a note to thank advertisers for returning to Twitter,” he likely wasn’t talking about big pharma companies. The vast majority of the top spending pharma advertisers had not returned last week, according to updated tracking data Pathmatic for Endpoints News.

Only three pharma advertisers spent any money at all, which is about the same as the past several weeks. AstraZeneca rejoined the active advertiser list, although at $700 spent hardly worth a personal Musk expression of gratitude. GSK remained active with $3,500 spent ad much lower than its previous spending, according to the Pathmatics data. Only Bayer spent any significant amount in advertising, with $244,000 spent last week, but that’s a considerable drop from almost $500,000 spent on OTC, prescription and corporate Twitter ads in each of the previous two weeks.

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Jonathan Montagu, HotSpot Therapeutics CEO

Ab­b­Vie puts up $40M to li­cense a treat­ment from HotSpot Ther­a­peu­tics

HotSpot Therapeutics has managed to gain some steam financially in the past few years, as the company wrangled several multi-million dollar raises. But its latest deal not only puts more cash into its pockets, it also connects with a major name in pharma.

On Tuesday, AbbVie and HotSpot announced they have entered an “exclusive” global collaboration, with the option to license HotSpot’s IRF5 program, which is designed to treat autoimmune diseases. The deal will see AbbVie hand HotSpot $40 million upfront, with the biotech eligible to receive $295 million in “option fees” and R&D milestones.

Jay Lichter, Avalon BioVentures CEO

Aval­on Ven­tures spins off a sep­a­rate fund to han­dle life sci­ence com­pa­nies — armed with $135M

Avalon Ventures has been a major player in the investing games both in tech and in the biotech world, but now a new fund will be zeroed in on investing in the life science field.

Christened Avalon BioVentures, the venture capital firm will be committed to investing in early-stage biomedical companies and has officially closed the fund with $135 million on hand from new and existing investors. The company will be focused specifically on the life science space only and emerging from Avalon’s tech and life science approach. The company will continue to “leverage” Avalon’s team and accelerator; Avalon founder Kevin Kinsella will be brought in as an emeritus partner.