"The only entity that knows the true course of disease isnature," said Irwin Braude, founder and chief scientific officerof drug discovery start-up CellPath Inc.

The Berkeley, Calif., company is betting that screeningcompounds on cells derived from diseased patients will providea better road to drug discovery than testing drugs usingconventional cell lines.

CellPath, founded last August, is seeking $5 million in funds topursue its plans to use patient-derived cells to find drugs totreat solid tumors and chronic inflammatory diseases such asrheumatoid arthritis and lupus, said Anthony Maida, presidentand chief executive.

"So little is known about the pathology of these diseases thatit's foolish to try to cure them without doing this," said Braude."If you can correct the defect in vitro using patient-derivedcells, you know you're on the right track." Braude waspreviously senior scientist and project manager for CetusCorp.'s autoimmune, inflammation and transplantationprogram.

"We also want to re-create the environment the cells live in,"Braude added. "If you slap them on a piece of plastic, they willbehave differently. Cell lines used now are selected for theirability to grow rapidly on plastic in fetal calf serum. Those cellsdon't closely resemble the natural cells in the patient."

Braude hopes that in their natural environment, the cells willdo the work of finding drugs. "With the diseases we've chosen,it's very difficult to predict what receptor or metabolicpathway you want to inhibit," he said.

Re-creating the tissue surrounding the diseased cells alsoallows the company to test compounds on normal cells to makesure it doesn't kill them.

The company's first targets will be colorectal cancer and lupus,diseases that afflict 150,000 new U.S. patients annually."Colorectal cancer is the greatest challenge among solidtumors," said Braude. Currently, surgery is the only treatment.

Braude said CellPath chose lupus for similar reasons. "It's themost difficult of the chronic inflammatory diseases to manage."Both diseases are also orphan drug candidates.

The company plans to take any drugs it discovers for colorectalcancer and lupus as far through the clinic as possible withoutcorporate partners, said Maida. CellPath will seek partners forindications that would be expensive to take through clinicals,such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Frank Rauscher, former head of the National Cancer Institute, ischairing the scientific advisory board.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.