AZ research nonprofit's first licensed drug is aimed at cancer - East Valley Tribune: Business

AZ research nonprofit's first licensed drug is aimed at cancer

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Posted: Monday, June 20, 2011 2:45 pm

A partnership between an Arizona non-profit organization and a New York pharmaceutical company has resulted in the licensing of a new drug that may help treat patients with ovarian and endometrial cancers.

The drug is still in pre-clinical testing, but the partners hope to start testing on patients as soon as next year.

In January, Oncoholdings Inc., a pharmaceutical company based in Syracuse, N.Y., partnered with TGen Drug Development (TD2), a non-profit organization in Scottsdale, to develop new anti-cancer agents. TGen is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix.

"We formed a partnership with TGen to cooperate and advance drugs through development," said Jeff Evans, CEO of Oncoholdings. "We're really excited to be working with TGen."

According to a recent TGen press release, the drug was discovered during research on how drugs interact with proteins in cancers.

Both parties are optimistic about what the partnership means for the advancement of science and developing cures for people with life-threatening diseases.

"...TGen Drug Development was really leading the innovative development of cancer drugs," said Stephen Gately, President of TD2, "so we signed an early arrangement to be the developer for many products Oncoholdings licenses."

Through the partnership, ONCO-101, a new drug that targets cancer tumors, will be the first licensed to Oncoholdings.

"Oncoholdings' mission is to really identify exciting new therapeutic agents for patients with cancer and to license up to 15 new compounds," Gately said. "This is just the first one. They are looking to find great new agents for people with cancer."

ONCO-101 may help treat patients with ovarian and endometrial cancer.

"The results of experimental studies show a dramatic activity in ovarian and uterine cancers," Gately said. "We'll know more about the drug when it gets into patients, but those are two diseases that have an unmet need."

The National Cancer Institute estimates that there were 13,850 deaths from ovarian cancer and 21,880 new cases in the United States in 2010.

"It's very nice when experimental details support ... uterine or endometrial cancers, where there has been no great new treatment for these patients," Gately said. "The way to get drugs developed quickly is to find areas that have unmet needs. We'll find out once we get approved for clinical testing."

While the partners hope to begin testing next year, it may be more than a year before the drug can be tested on patients.

"We've got a solid12 months of preclinical testing to ensure that the drug is ready," Evans said. "We are very confident it will make it through that process."

After the preclinical phase, the drug may be tested on patients right here in Arizona.

"I look forward to bringing this into clinical testing in cooperation with them," Evans said. "I'm looking forward to a long relationship in Scottsdale, Arizona."

For Arizona, this could mean a new reputation for cancer research.

"It really will help establish Arizona as a center for excellence for cancer research development," Gately said. "I think it's a huge success story for Arizona and puts the focus on what we can do here in Arizona."

The main focus is to help patients find treatment options.

"TGen is about bringing forward new science and developing cures," Evans said. "It's been a great effort, and we're starting to reap the rewards of all this investment of time, energy and money into curing diseases. This is really exciting, and I anticipate this will continue."

Gately explained that patients will be chosen based on the likelihood that their specific tumor will respond to the treatment. Therefore, physicians will look for the features of the tumor that make it most vulnerable to the drug.

"It's not just about treating a lot of patients, but the right ones," Gately said, "... and get the right drug for that patient. Our physicians are constantly looking for that aspect that will make that patient unique."

The licensing of ONCO-101 with Oncholdings could be the first of many new anti-cancer compounds developed in Arizona.

"I think it's always scientifically exciting to understand the underlying genomics that are driving the diseases for a patient," Gately said. "It's nice to know what's causing the disease, but it's nice to know there's a treatment for it. We're here to make a difference for patients with cancer, and we're here to do that for Arizona."

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