Biotech Erasca taps MD Anderson to help advance cancer drug work
- Emerging biotechnology company Erasca is partnering with one of the largest cancer centers in the U.S. to help it develop therapies aimed at mutations in a cellular pathway that are implicated in many tumors.
- Under the five-year agreement announced Tuesday, Erasca and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will conduct studies of the company’s experimental drugs in non-small cell lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancers and other tumor types.
- The company is developing drugs that target proteins associated with RAS/MAPK, a cascade of genes that regulate cell growth and function and “is one of cancer’s most frequently altered pathways, affecting more than 5 million new patients with cancer annually worldwide,” Erasca CEO and co-founder Jonathan Lim said in a statement.
San Diego, Calif.-based Erasca was founded four years ago by Lim, a serial biotech entrepreneur best known for forming the cancer startup Ignyta that in 2017 Roche bought for $1.7 billion. Ignyta’s’s drug entrectinib was later approved for a rare form of lung cancer and is now sold as Rozlytrek.
Success followed Lim to Erasca, where he raised more than $300 million before the biotech’s $345 million initial public offering in 2021. Turning to an academic center like MD Anderson is a common strategy for biotech and pharmaceutical companies to bolster their research. MD Anderson has done similar deals in the past with Sanofi, Allogene Therapeutics, Xencor, Resilience, and Turning Point Therapeutics, among others.
Erasca, whose name is a nod to its goal to “erase cancer,” is developing treatments for tumors driven by alterations in the RAS/MAPK pathway. Erasca’s lead drug ERAS-007 is in Phase 2 trials, while another drug, called ERAS-601, is in multiple studies in colorectal cancer and human papillomavirus-negative head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.
“We have designed our pipeline to comprehensively shut down this highly oncogenic pathway at multiple critical nodes, and we’re excited to work with MD Anderson to potentially address major unmet needs in the treatment of cancer,” Lim said.
The company and MD Anderson also plan to work on an earlier-stage drug that targets a specific mutation in KRAS, a gene that’s often mutated in lung, colon and pancreatic cancers but was until recently considered “undruggable.” Amgen’s Lumakras is the first KRAS-targeting drug approved, but is aimed at a different alteration in the gene than Erasca’s candidate.
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