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.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,900+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.