BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON — MMI Group plc is close to moving ruthenium chemotherapeutics into the clinic, which it claims have the potential to overtake their platinum-based counterparts as the leading anti-cancer drugs.

David Best, CEO, said Phase I trials of the lead product will start later this year. In preclinical work ruthenium is far more effective than platinum at killing human cancer cells. "Lung cancer is a particularly impressive example," said Best. "Only a tiny bit of ruthenium is needed — it is 100 times more effective than the platinum drug of choice."

As a result, the ruthenium compounds are expected to have far fewer toxic side effects. In addition, in preclinical trials they are effective against tumor types that are resistant to platinum, Best told an analysts' meeting held to review the company's pipeline.

Currently, platinum-based drugs have the largest share of the chemotherapy market by volume, but because most are generic, account for 22 percent of the market by value.

Cambridge-based MMI licensed the ruthenium compounds from Edinburgh University in 2002. Starting with 150 compounds the company selected the best 15. Last year it took three of these into GMP manufacturing, of which one was dropped and two are now coming to the end of preclinical development.

"Although these two leads look promising compared to platinum, on the basis of the preclinical work we believe we've got even better [compounds]," said Best.

"These would be oral, so we are going back to the library and think we could possibly find a new class of drugs." MMI has a patented portfolio of 8,000 ruthenium compounds discovered by Peter Sadler, an expert on the use of precious metals in treating disease.

MMI operates on a virtual model, in-licensing products from universities for onward development in satellite companies. Best said MMI is now in talks with potential partners to license the ruthenium compounds and other products in its portfolio, which include a range of cancer vaccines and an anti-AIDS treatment.

According to Best, some of the potential pharma partners, "many of which are in the top 10 by market capitalization," are interested in everything in the portfolio, others in one or two products. He expects to complete a deal later in 2007.

At current burn rates MMI has 12 months' cash. Best said pharma's appetite for pipeline fillers means a deal will be done before the money runs out. "You won't get the over-the-barrel syndrome because big companies really do need drugs."