Roche pulls a tumor micro-environment drug out of the freezer, hands it to a UK upstart
Two years after pulling it from clinical development, Roche has handed control of a solid tumor cancer drug to a tiny Oxford University spinout.
For an undisclosed fee, Celleron Therapeutics acquired the drug, an anti-CSF1R antibody that’s designed to modulate the tumor micro-environment — an increasingly popular approach among cancer drug developers. Celleron says it will now put the drug into trials for patients with tenosynovial giant cell tumors, a rare disease where series of benign tumors begin to grow around the joints and tendons. It’s caused by cells over-producing CSF1R.
The deal appears to be a straight biotech-repurposing-off-the-Pharma-shelf deal. Although Roche launched 4 different trials for the drug — one of which is still technically on-going — the Swiss pharma retired the drug as part of a broad pipeline sweep back in October of 2018. It was a “business decision,” the company wrote on one withdrawn study’s page on clinicaltrials.gov, stipulating there were “no safety or efficacy concerns.”
In fact, the antibody had looked promising in the only efficacy results that ever surfaced. In a Phase I study published in The Lancet Oncology, 24 out of 28 patients responded to the drug, and two of them had a complete response.
Celleron will now have a chance to test whether those results can bear out in larger trials. The company says it’s “built a proprietary platform around epigenetic control and immune modulation,” but most of their clinical efforts so far have focused on an in-licensed drug from AstraZeneca that inhibits histone deacetylase, a class of enzymes that change one of the types of epigenetic markers on DNA. They’ve put it into Phase I and Phase II trials in the UK and in China in different combinations and different cancers, including T-cell lymphomas and HCC.
Still, Celleron has its own assets, including a series of preclinical assets that target histones. They also have CXD201, a molecule that inhibits topoisomerase, one of the enzymes that winds and unwinds DNA. And they say they use biomarker data to match the best drugs to the best patients.
The company has never announced how much capital they’ve raised, but they said in 2017 they raised funding from a South Korean consortium.