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CDRD Ventures launches new spin-off companies

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By Peter Winter
BioWorld Insight Editor

There is no doubt that Canada is a global leader when it comes to biotech innovation. However, it’s no secret that the country has been challenged in its ability to successfully translate promising medical discoveries made at its universities and research institutions into viable commercial projects capable of attracting venture capital and industry interest.

The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) is aiming to change this situation. Although the not-for-profit drug development and commercialization organization has been in existence for just over five years it has effectively leveraged public and private sector funding to build a state-of-the-art drug development and commercialization platform supported by a significant infrastructure comprising scientific and business expertise and professional project management skills to be able to nurture innovative health technologies through the preclinical stage.

“CDRD is the only fully integrated facility of its kind in the country and one of a handful of such centers in the world,” Natalie Dakers, CDRD Ventures Inc. (CV1), the commercialization vehicle of CDRD, told BioWorld Insight. “The ultimate goal is to de-risk discoveries stemming from publicly funded health research and transform them into viable investment opportunities for the private sector.”

From CDRD’s drug development projects and/or external opportunities, CVI licenses select promising technologies with the objective to further advance them to a stage where they can attract licensing partners, form the foundation for a new spin-off company, or secure the investment needed for clinical development.

Bridging the gap

Helping to bridge this commercialization gap between academia and industry is beginning to yield results with the CVI’s launch of two new spin-off Canadian biotech companies in December.

The launch of the companies demonstrates CDRD’s unique capabilities in the fact that its in-house drug development professionals are able to mold promising ideas from academia into therapeutics, noted Dakers.

New minted Sitka Biopharma Inc. will be developing a new bladder cancer treatment. The company’s technology combines a nanoparticulate drug delivery technology based on hyperbranched polyglycerols (HPG), with docetaxel, a well characterized chemotherapeutic, in a single proprietary formulation designed for intravesical instillation into the bladder.

“The technology and its application have been nurtured locally,” Sean Cunliffe, newly appointed company CEO, told BioWorld Insight.

“They were developed initially from a University of British Columbia (UBC) and CDRD collaboration and then further refined toward a product candidate via CVI.”

The collaboration was led by Helen Burt, associate vice president of research at UBC, with a history of commercially successful drug-delivery technology development, along with Don Brooks, and Jay Kizhakkedathu, both of pathology at UBC, whose groups developed the drug binding HPG polymers.

In preclinical studies, results have shown that the company’s candidate formulation significantly improved bladder tissue uptake when compared to the commercial docetaxel formulation. In addition, in animal models of bladder cancer, the proprietary HPG-docetaxel formulation demonstrated superior efficacy over commercial docetaxel – providing a preclinical proof-of-concept.

Cunliffe said he is now working on a business plan in order to go out and present the opportunity to potential investors. The goal will be to attract sufficient funding to move the lead product to clinical proof of concept.

Next-generation ADCs

Kairos Therapeutics Inc., CVI’s second spin-out, will be focused on developing next-generation antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) therapeutics for cancer. The company is developing a family of antibody-drug conjugate therapeutics based on a proprietary toxin and linker platform. ADCs are a highly effective new class of targeted cancer therapeutics. The company said that the ADC platform will be available to potential partners wishing to access this ADC technology.

Kairos also is developing an internal pipeline of ADCs for the treatment of various forms of cancer. Proprietary site-specific conjugation methodology has been developed to maintain target affinity, effector function, and increase circulation half-life. The technology was developed in-house at CDRD and has been exclusively licensed to Kairos from CVI.

CDRD’s vice president, biologics, John Babcook, has been named as company president and chief scientific officer.

Preclinical efficacy has been established demonstrating an advantage over the leading FDA-approved HER2-based ADC, in two HER2+ cancer xenograft models. Further preclinical studies demonstrate that their ADCs are well tolerated and stable. Through key partnerships, the company said it has access to several oncology targets and tumor-targeting ADCs for in-house development.

“Our proprietary toxin and linker platform shows promise in the development of multiple treatments targeting several different cancers,” Babcook said.

The CDRD has been very active in the past couple of months. In addition to spinning out new biotech companies it entered into a preferred collaboration agreement with the Prevention for Organ Failure Centre (PROOF Centre). The organizations will work together on advancing personalized medicine.

PROOF’s expertise in identifying and developing clinically relevant biomarker solutions for the clinical laboratory and in support of industry will mesh with CDRD’s expertise in the development of target- and mechanism-based therapeutics. In aligning, the organizations believe that this will synergize their development efforts focused on highly relevant targets and mechanisms; improved methods for assessing mechanism of actions, therapeutic efficacy, and toxicity of candidate therapeutics; and build companion biomarker panels to advance personalized medicine.