MD Anderson launches new spinout to develop radiopharmaceuticals
- The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is forming a joint venture with Radiopharm Theranostics to turn discoveries at the institution into a group of radiopharmaceutical drugs.
- The new company, called Radiopharm Ventures, plans to bring four or more radiopharmaceuticals into clinical trials. The first candidate targets the protein B7-H3, which is also known as CD276 and is expressed in tumors but not in healthy cells, MD Anderson said Tuesday.
- MD Anderson’s intellectual property will yield at least three more therapeutic targets as well. One focus will be the work of Samir Hanash, a professor of clinical cancer prevention who has explored proteins found on the surface of cancer cells that, he claimed, offer “many compelling targets” for treatments.
Radiopharmaceuticals carry the promise of precisely targeting cancer cells instead of the full-scale blast that comes with traditional radiation. The idea is to kill tumors while sparing healthy cells.
The concept has drawn increasing interest from drugmakers in recent years. Novartis has made radiopharmaceuticals a priority, for instance, spending $6 billion in 2017 and 2018 to buy Advanced Accelerator Applications and Endocyte. Earlier this year, the Swiss drugmaker won U.S. approval for a radiopharmaceutical called Pluvicto to treat an advanced form of prostate cancer.
AstraZeneca, which has one of the top cancer treatment portfolios in the industry, has also gotten into the field, forming a partnership with Fusion Pharmaceuticals in 2020. And Germany’s Bayer last year snapped up two small biotech companies that came with a preclinical radiopharmaceutical designed to target a protein found on prostate cancer cells.
Even as the appetite for initial public offerings in biotech has slowed, investors are still showing interest in targeted radiation drugs. RayzeBio on Tuesday announced it had raised $160 million in a Series D financing round, bringing its total to $418 million since August 2020. Last month, Merck & Co.’s venture arm and other investors poured $84 million into Aktis Oncology.
Still, there have been bumps in the road. Radiopharmaceuticals are difficult to manufacture and require specialized facilities. Novartis in May had to temporarily suspend production of Pluvicto and another drug due to “potential quality issues” at sites in Italy and New Jersey. The company restarted production in June and expects to have a new radioligand manufacturing facility in Indiana operational next year.
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