Alethia Biotherapeutics Inc., moving toward clinical development of its pipeline, entered a deal with Biosite Corp. to develop antibodies against ovarian cancer targets.

Montreal-based Alethia was spun off from now-defunct SignalGene Inc. in 2002 as part of a deal that included about C$6.2 million in funding from Genome Quebec. The company has evolved since then to its current focus of developing treatments for ovarian cancer and cancer-induced bone loss.

Alethia will provide Biosite access to targets that will be evaluated as markers for ovarian cancer. Biosite, of San Diego, in turn will provide Alethia with monoclonal antibodies for disease-specific targets.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Biosite will get rights to resulting diagnostics while Alethia will have rights to therapeutics, said Mario Filion, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Alethia.

The deal with Biosite is the first corporate collaboration disclosed by Alethia, which now intends to focus on advancement of its compounds, a process that will include going on the road in search of funding, Filion said.

"Since we have many validated targets we are in position to attract new partners in the next few years," Filion told BioWorld Today. "We want to raise some funds to push [development of AB-IsoG] and other leads."

Citing other recent deals, Filion said it may be a "good time to attract investment" in Canada. "There's a certain momentum now. And we're very confident the intellectual property we've generated in the last few years is novel. When inactivating those targets, we are getting very good phenotypes."

The company's lead product is AB-IsoG, or isogranulatimide, an inhibitor of the G2 cell-cycle checkpoint, is being developed to enhance the effect of existing chemotherapies. Preclinical studies demonstrated its ability to reduce the survival of ovarian cancer cells previously treated with existing topoisomerase inhibitors. An investigational new drug application filing to begin Phase I trials is expected within the next 12 months. Alethia gained exclusive rights to the chemosensitizer from the University of British Columbia to help accelerate its transition from discovery to product development, Filion said.

AB-IsoG treatment is being designed to be used as an adjuvant therapy following treatment with DNA-damaging chemotherapy. Inhibition of the G2/M checkpoint is thought to stop the process whereby cells repair damaged DNA and complete the cell cycle. Inhibition would lead to "mitotic catastrophe," a process of cell death different from apoptosis, Filion said.

The rest of Alethia's programs were discovered internally. Alethia's discovery platform is based on expression genomics used with filtering strategies.

Animal studies of the lead bone-loss product, AB-0440, as well as another ovarian cancer product, AB-0447, are expected to begin this year. AB-0440 targets a cell-surface protease involved in osteoclast differentiation. Alethia has at least six other programs in earlier stages of development.

Alethia's former parent company, Montreal-based SignalGene, was incorporated in 1991 under the name Algène Biotechnologies to study the genetic causes of Alzheimer's disease. It went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1996. In 1999, it restructured its business, changed its management and took on the SignalGene name. Through its history, it acquired GeneScape Inc. and Nanodesign Inc. SignalGene spun out Alethia in 2002 before its business closed in 2003.

The funding from Genome Quebec, a Canadian government/industry/academic alliance, at the time was expected to help fund Alethia over three years. Alethia's focus was on developing targets and compounds to treat disorders that in particular affect women.

The decision was made at Alethia to focus entirely on functional genomics, Filion said. Initial efforts to target bone loss in osteoporosis led to the link with bone loss in metastatic cancer.

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