Magazine Article | September 3, 2012

Companies To Watch: PsiOxus

Source: Life Science Leader

By Wayne Koberstein, Executive Editor, Life Science Leader magazine
Follow Me On Twitter @WayneKoberstein

Destroying cancer cells and beating a deadly wasting disease are on this company’s brave agenda.

SNAPSHOT

PsiOxus is exploiting novel mechanisms to fight cancer directly along with its indirect but lethal effects. In mid-July, the company landed funding for Phase 1 and 2 trials of ColoAd1, a “systemically available oncolytic vaccine” that selectively enters cancer cells and proliferates inside like a virus, killing the cells — an interesting marriage of targeted and immunotherapeutic strategies. It also has the first product in development (Phase 2) for cachexia, the wasting syndrome that is the actual killer of a huge number of cancer patients, with a “conservative” market potential of $4 billion, and is developing the same molecule, MT-102, for similar wasting conditions such as sarcopenia, which affects many elderly people. PsiOxus also has two platforms in preclinical development for enhancing viral-based vaccines: PolySTAR (polymercoated stealthed viral vectors) and PolyMAP (potent polymerised synthetic TLR adjuvants).

LATEST UPDATES

  • July 2012: Funding from $34 million Series B for Phase 1 and 2 development of ColoAd1 for colorectal and other cancers.
  • April 2012: Expansion of facilities at Oxfordshire, UK, to double lab workforce

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Why do people die of cancer? Like many of our worst diseases, death does not always come from the cancer itself, but from its secondary manifestations — the two most deadly being devastation of the immune system and destruction of the body itself, aka cachexia. PsiOxus has plunged bravely into both areas; the first is a vaccine that makes up for a patient’s immunodeficiency by installing its own replicating attack force inside cancer cells to destroy them; the second is a molecule that blocks a recently identified pathway to cachexia. Destroying cancer cells sounds almost like a throwback to earlier times, before molecular-targeted drugs put the emphasis on impeding their growth. Instead of aiming for select cancers and patients, the PsiOxus vaccine brings back the concept of a more general treatment, theoretically for any cancer or any patient. The cachexia drug would be the first active therapy for the condition; nutritional approaches have never worked. What’s more, the drug’s MoA (mechanism of action) may apply to other wasting conditions with big potential markets. So many promising theories and approaches to treating cancer have fallen to the stubborn realities and clever defenses of the disease — what gives PsiOxus confidence that its approaches will succeed where most others have failed? “Developing cancer therapeutics is certainly a high-risk business, and it is important to de-risk the approaches as much as possible, as early as possible,” says the company’s CEO, Dr. John Beadle. “Our approaches to cancer are unique but also have a significant degree of specific de-risking in each case. ColoAd1 is particularly exciting given its unique mechanism of action, which does not rely upon apoptosis (which is the terminal pathway for virtually every existing cancer therapy). Resistant cancer cells are often resistant to apoptosis but are still susceptible to ColoAd1. This is an exciting new approach and hence carries the risk of failure, but in order to derisk this program we have done our most significant preclinical work using fresh human tissues and cell lines, since animal models are so poor at predicting these potential effects in humans.” Many thought leaders in cancer immunology believe that future patients will be treated with combinations of different immunotherapies rather than a single one. But if the PsiOxus vaccine proves safe and effective, they will undoubtedly welcome it, along with the cachexia drug, into the armamentarium.


VITAL STATISTICS

Employees: 19; Headquarters: London, UK.

Funding (Total $42.8 million):

  • Series A, $8.8 million, with participation by Imperial Innovations Group, Invesco Perpetual (February 2010)
  • Series B, $34 million, with participation by Imperial Innovations Group, Invesco Perpetual, SR One, and Lundbeckfond Ventures (July 2012)

Research partnership funding:

  • $2.8 million translation award from Wellcome Trust Phase 1 and 2 trials of Oncolytic Vaccine (September 2011)

Partnership:

  • With Ark Therapeutics Group, for production of ColoAd1 oncoloytic adenoviral product using Ark’s proprietary suspension based single-use process (ATOSUS)