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U of New Mexico licenses drug candidate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: September 13th, 2017

STC.UNM, the tech transfer and economic development arm for the University of New Mexico, has signed an option to an exclusive, worldwide license with Pascal Biosciences Inc. for a therapeutic monoclonal antibody targeting B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (BCP-ALL). The option agreement grants drug developer Pascal six months to license the UNM technology, with the potential for a 12-month option extension.

ALL is the most common childhood cancer, most often occurring between ages two and five years, and is also seen in older adults above age fifty. This disease is caused by mutations during the early development of lymphocytes. Tumor cells from the majority of ALL patients express the marker VpreB1, a subunit of the pre–B cell receptor (pre-BCR).

Dr. Bridget S. Wilson and Dr. Stuart S. Winter and their colleagues at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered a high-affinity, fully human monoclonal antibody specific for VpreB1 that kills ALL tumor cells in cell culture. Expression of this marker is limited to leukemic cells and a small subset of developing immune cells called pre-B cells. Therefore, targeting VpreB1 specifically eliminates the tumor cells, while sparing the more mature memory B cells that are essential to a functioning immune system. In contrast, drugs targeting more broadly expressed markers, such as CD19, destroy not only the pre-B leukemia cells but also the more mature B cells. Therefore, this VpreB1-targeted therapy is likely to be much less toxic to patients than chemotherapy.

 “Due to its bivalent nature, the pre-BCR is a particularly novel and ideal antigen for chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (“CAR-T”) therapy,” says Dr. Wilson. “And, since crosslinking of the pre-BCR leads to rapid endocytosis, anti-VpreB1 antibodies are ideal for drug delivery. We look forward to working with Pascal on advancing this discovery into human clinical trials.” The UNM technology covers all VpreB1-targeted therapeutics such as antibody-drug conjugates and CAR-T therapy. Pascal will also work with UNM to develop a diagnostic screen to determine which patients will best respond to therapy targeting VpreB1.

 “This innovation involves a less-toxic cancer therapy that has the potential to improve quality of life and decrease mortality rates in leukemia patients. We feel very fortunate to be partnering with Pascal Biosciences to bring this technology to market,” added Lisa Kuuttila, CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer of STC.

 “We are very pleased to acquire this novel technology from UNM, and we look forward to working closely with Drs. Wilson and Winter. Fortunately, most patients with this devastating disease can be cured with standard chemotherapy. However, those that fail chemotherapy usually have poor outcomes, and we believe VpreB1 therapy has great potential to treat these patients,” commented Dr. Patrick Gray, Pascal’s CEO. “In addition, young patients that receive chemotherapy often develop other cancers as they mature, so a more targeted therapy focused on VpreB1 may prevent future serious complications.”

Source: GlobeNewswire

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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