By Karen Pihl-Carey

Genta Inc. acquired a company formed through the discovery of a small-molecule technology developed by a University of Maryland professor that appears to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells.

Androgenics Technologies Inc. is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Lexington, Mass.-based Genta. Although the companies will not disclose specific terms of the deal, they said Androgenics will receive warrants for Genta's common stock. The acquired company will receive 10 percent up front, and 90 percent upon successful completion of certain development milestones.

"It represents for us an implementation in a strategic shift that we have been contemplating for some time," Genta President and CEO Kenneth Kasses told BioWorld Today. Genta has built itself on antisense technology, Kasses said. "We're now becoming involved in cancer therapeutics in a broader context. And this helps make that shift for us."

Androgenics Technologies is a company that was founded on technology developed by Angela Brodie, a professor of pharmacology, and her colleagues at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The technology is a "series of steroidal compounds that have multiple mechanisms of action," Kasses said.

The actions inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells and block both native and mutant androgen receptors, which are believed to promote prostate cancer. The mutant receptors may be related to the development of resistance toward hormone receptor-blocking drugs used in prostate cancer treatment.

There are compounds available that already block androgen receptors, Kasses said, but this new compound includes a combination of activities that may tackle even the mutant androgen receptors. The mutant forms have become hormone insensitive, meaning the antihormonal treatments no longer work, Kasses said.

"We hope that this perhaps will be a mechanism to overcome that insensitivity, but also to work during the hormonal sensitive period," he said.

Kasses would not disclose how many shares Androgenics could potentially receive in the deal, citing confidentiality clauses. It is too difficult to say how much the deal is worth because it is "contingent on the success of the compound," he said. "The payments are warrants of company stock that don't become exercisable until we reach certain milestones."

The milestones include the initial clinical trial through submission of an application for marketing authorization and the reimbursement of Androgenics' start-up costs.

Brodie and her colleagues have worked for several years making and testing more than 100 compounds in the series. They are close to narrowing down a lead compound, Kasses said, and Genta expects to start clinical trials within a year.

"We have an excellent cancer drug now that this will, in a sense, complement our current technology," Gerald Schimmoeller, vice president and chief financial officer of Genta, told BioWorld Today.

Genta entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with the National Cancer Institute earlier this year for the development of its lead drug candidate, G3139, as an anticancer agent. G3139 is designed to act against the Bcl-2 gene and prevent it from triggering the production of disease-related proteins. A Phase I/IIa study began in May at the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. In preclinical studies, G3139, in combination with standard anticancer agents, reduced the Bcl-2 protein levels and enhanced apoptosis. Genta was issued a U.S. patent in June for its use of antisense targeted to the Bcl-2 gene, which includes G3139.

Genta's stock (NASDAQ:GNTA) closed Wednesday at $2.312, down 3 cents.