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Friday, June 1, 2012

The New York Times, "A New Class of Cancer Drugs May Be Less Toxic": Where Compugen Could Excel

In an article in The New York Times entitled "A New Class of Cancer Drugs May Be Less Toxic" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/business/a-new-class-of-cancer-drugs-may-be-less-toxic.html?_r=2&pagewanted=2&hp&pagewanted=all), Andrew Pollack describes an exciting class of antibody-drug conjugates directed against cancer, which "may be more effective and less toxic than many existing treatments." Mr. Pollack writes:

"The new approach chemically attaches a toxin to the antibody, increasing its killing power while reducing the need to give toxic drugs separately. After the antibody binds to a cancer cell, it is taken inside the cell like a Trojan horse, and the toxin is released.

While armed antibodies are sometimes likened to guided missiles with toxic warheads, they actually cannot guide themselves to tumors.

Rather, they float through the bloodstream, bumping against various cells. But they stick only to the cells bearing the target protein."

As I have noted in prior blog entries (see, for example: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2009/10/monoclonal-antibodies-mabs-for-dummies.html), monoclonal antibodies comprise one of the fastest growing fields in the discovery of novel therapeutic drugs.

However, any monoclonal antibody therapeutic begins with a cell membrane protein against which it is developed, and to which it binds as a drug. The advantageous specificity of monoclonal antibodies ("mAbs") is premised upon antibodies binding to targets found on cancerous cells, and without targets, which are difficult to find, there can be no mAbs.

Although yesterday's New York Times article very briefly alluded to the need for targets ("these antibodies attach to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells"), the specificity demanded of targets for antibody-drug conjugates is extremely high, given the toxicity of the payloads. Toxins cannot be allowed to enter the blood stream, and conjugates cannot be used if healthy cells also possess the target membrane protein.

I would also mention that in addition to the development of antibody drug conjugates, another "hot" mechanism for mAb therapy involves blocking the inhibition of the immune system induced by the cancerous cells, i.e. ridding cancer cells of their cloak of invisibility and allowing the body's natural immune system to attack these intruders.

Enter Compugen, an Israeli based drug discovery company, which, owing to its decade-long research involving biological phenomena on the molecular level and its mapping of the transcriptome and proteome (all mRNAs and proteins present in the human body), has succeeded in creating a Monoclonal Antibody Targets Discovery Platform that predicts the existence of membrane proteins potentially able to serve as targets for antibody therapeutics. As stated by the company (see: http://www.cgen.com/Content.aspx?Page=diagnostic_programs):

"Compugen’s mAb target discovery capability has been expanded beyond the initial focus on various solid tumors such as lung, ovarian, breast, colorectal and hematological cancers. New field extension modules have been added, which are now enabling the discovery of drug targets involved in drug response, metastatic stage cancer, and additional cancers such as melanoma, renal, liver, and pancreatic cancers.

Using this platform Compugen has identified tens of novel targets of which over a dozen are under various stages of validation."

Thus, it came as no surprise when Compugen announced "the establishment of operations in South San Francisco, California for the development of oncology and immunology monoclonal antibody (mAb) drug candidates against Compugen-discovered targets" (see: http://www.cgen.com/Content.aspx?Page=press_releases&NewsId=613).

As recently stated by Compugen, "The resulting in-house combination of our novel target discovery capabilities with outstanding expertise in the generation and development of mAb therapeutics positions Compugen to become a potential world leader in mAb therapeutics, the fastest growing drug class in pharmaceuticals and a drug class which predominately addresses the therapeutic fields of immunology and oncology."


[As noted in prior blog entries, I am a Compugen shareholder, this blog entry is not a recommendation to buy or sell Compugen shares, and in September 2009 I began work as a part-time external consultant to Compugen. The opinions expressed herein are mine and are based on publicly available information. This blog entry has not been authorized, approved or reviewed prior to posting by Compugen.]

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