BioWorld International Correspondent

MUNICH, Germany - LipoRed, a diagnostic agent from MBT Munich Biotechnology AG, entered a Phase Ib/II study to determine its effectiveness in patients with head and neck cancer. The compound is part of a technology platform that the company has developed for treatment of solid tumors, which account for 80 percent to 90 percent of all cancers.

LipoRed, and the related compound LipoPac, are based on the strong tendency of new blood vessels to bind and take up highly charged cationic liposomes. "The products use this tendency to deliver diagnostic or therapeutic compounds to new blood vessels, which are generally rare in adults, outside of tumors," Guenter Schirmer, chief development officer of Martinsried-based MBT, told BioWorld International. "The idea we have in mind is to transport chemotherapy selectively to the tumor region itself."

Because new blood vessels are found almost exclusively in or around tumors, a compound that is targeted at the vessels would have a high degree of specificity for attacking cancers, the company said.

MBT expects the diagnostic agent to allow more reliable identification of the tumor. The same technology that delivers LipoRed also is designed to deliver therapeutic compounds such as LipoPac, which entered Phase Ib/II testing for prostate cancer in May. The platform is also intended to deliver the other agents that MBT has in its pipeline, such as Dia-B, Thera-B and Thera-C, all of which are in the optimization or preclinical stages of development.

Schirmer said that therapeutic compounds delivered by the cationic liposome platform should "eradicate the new blood vessels and deliver secondary effects from normal chemotherapy in high local concentration."

The company has completed a similar trial of LipoRed in bladder carcinoma. Hermann Pian, the company's head of business development, said that MTB decided to run a second trial to show that the technology works across a range of solid tumors. "We have ambitious goals for this platform," he told BioWorld International. Head and neck cancers are "medically and morphologically very different" from bladder carcinoma, he added.

Pian said that the early reports from LipoPac studies were very encouraging. "It seems to be very well tolerated, and we are working on proof of concept in human patients of enhanced delivery to tumor regions."

The platform is derived from a discovery in the mid-1990s out of gene therapy research, which used cationic lipids for gene delivery. Kurt Naujoks, MTB's CEO, then at Boehringer Mannheim, saw that those lipids had high uptake in new blood vessels and reasoned that a way could be found to exploit that trait in his field of oncology.

Naujoks founded MTB in September 1998 and raised €7.5 million from venture investors that include 3i, Deutsche Bank, Global Life Science, Heidelberg Innovation and HypoVereinsbank. The company raised a second round of €30.3 million in August 2001. "We are very happy to have closed the round last year, and we are in a good situation," Pian said.

While declining to give specifics about the privately held company, he said that it had the resources necessary to bring more of its compounds through Phase II trials. Once several indications had been shown for its platform, Pian said, the company will seek partners to help with Phase III trials.

Although the company is unlikely to be directly affected by possible consolidation in the German biotech sector, Pian said that it definitely benefited from its location in the biotech cluster at Martinsried, near Munich. He cited the Max Planck Institute, the deep local brain pool and the nearby university hospitals as positive elements of the hub. "These all played a role in our decision to locate in Martinsried," he said.

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