By Debbie Strickland

AntiCancer Inc.'s new 50-50 joint venture with the Jiangsu Kingsley group gives the San Diego firm additional manufacturing capacity and an entrée into the Chinese market for its lead therapeutic product, ONCase, under development for solid tumors.

The new company, dubbed Nanjing Kingsley AntiCancer Biotechnology Co. Ltd. (NKAB), will manufacture the enzyme-based drug for distribution in China, and for use in European clinical trials expected to begin later this year.

AntiCancer's partner, the Jiangsu Kingsley group, is a Nanjing-based, multibillion-dollar Chinese conglomerate with interests in hotels and real estate, as well as pharmaceuticals and tobacco sales. The company paid for the joint venture's 20,000-square-foot Good Manufacturing Practices pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, located in the Jiangsu province. That factory would have cost upwards of $20 million to build in the U.S., according to the companies, providing a nice bonus for AntiCancer.

"AntiCancer is not putting any money up," said Andrew Perry, president of the company's consumer products division. "We're just putting in the technology for ONCase."

NKAB has ONCase marketing rights in China and is shooting for regulatory approval there within a year. The company will also manufacture ONCase for trial and commercial use elsewhere, except in the U.S. AntiCancer will manufacture U.S. supplies at its San Diego facility.

The therapeutic enzyme in ONCase, methioninease, works by depleting the body of the amino acid methionine, without which tumor cells cannot divide. Designed to work in combination with existing chemotherapeutic agents, the drug in animal studies has shown "activity against any kind of solid tumor," said Perry.

The lead indications are gastrointestinal tract cancer — likely to be the target of the initial Phase I/II European trial — and metastatic breast and prostate cancers. AntiCancer has met with the FDA as a prelude to submitting an investigational new drug application, but European clinical testing is likely to commence before U.S. trials.

The NKAB joint venture marks the latest of several Asian deals for privately held AntiCancer, which in the mid-1980s received a portion of its original venture funding from Japan.

"One relationship seems to build on another," said Perry. "It's been self-perpetuating."

Five of the company's six corporate agreements cover Asian territories, including a 1995 ONCase codevelopment and marketing agreement covering Japan with Sionogi & Co. Ltd., of Osaka.

Although ONCase's advance has been rather quiet, some of AntiCancer's developmental projects have made headlines in both the trade and mainstream press in recent years.

Mouse Transplant Model Produced $1M In Revenues

The firm developed a patented liposome drug delivery system for hair removal, growth and coloring, which was licensed in 1996 to Thermolase Corp. In that deal, San Diego-based Thermolase acquired what was at the time a 10 percent equity interest in AntiCancer by investing $4.4 million, and paid $100,000 up front, with another $1.5 million in milestone payments possible.

In October 1997, AntiCancer made two splashes, first with publication of research on a method of monitoring human cancer metastasis using a jellyfish fluorescent gene. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 14, 1997, p. 1.)

The company followed up two weeks later with the isolation of homocysteinase, an enzyme under development in both diagnostic and therapeutic applications related to homocysteine, which has been linked to heart disease.

AntiCancer has one marketed service, the MetaMouse, a cancer animal model that relies on a patented transplantation technique to implant human cancer tissues in corresponding mouse organs. Designed for use in discovery and development of cancer drugs, drug delivery systems and gene therapies, the service produced $1 million in revenues in 1997. The National Cancer Institute supported further development with the April 1997 award of a $630,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant. *