CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Felitcitex Therapeutics, which deals with diagnostics and potential therapeutics for quiescent cancers, and Krakow, Poland-based Selvita, reportedly the largest drug discovery company in Central and Eastern Europe, have entered into a strategic collaboration to develop breakthrough personalized cancer therapeutics for some of the deadliest and most resistant cancers, such as pancreatic, colon, ovarian, lung and hematopoietic tumors.
The market for cancer therapeutics in the United States is more than $70 billion. Many of these products are chemotherapeutics that address only actively dividing cancer cells. As such, a good fraction of them will benefit in the future by molecules, like Felicitex’s leads, that complement traditional and new therapies by addressing quiescent cells. Each of the first five tumor markets Felicitex is targeting has a potential of over $1 billion.
Felicitex is eager to help large, established pharmaceutical firms with existing products on the market to go further to meet the significant unmet need in areas like pancreatic cancer, where the five-year survival rate is still less than 10 percent, according to Dr. Maria Vilenchik, founder, CEO and scientific director of the company. Felicitex will combine its expertise in oncology drug discovery, understanding of cancer cell quiescence, target platform implementation, proprietary leads and diagnostic assays with Selvita’s medicinal and computational chemistry expertise and experience in the discovery and optimization of small-molecule inhibitors, as well as its significant know-how on cancer quiescence target kinases, leading to a potential breakthrough cooperation and delivery of much-needed effective antineoplastic medicines.
The collaboration will allow Felicitex to utilize its resources most efficiently, focus on its core area of expertise and have access to a world-class medicinal chemistry team and facilities contributed by Selvita, Vilenchik explains.
Under the terms of the collaboration, Selvita will provide Felicitex with undilutive funding, a dedicated team of scientists and facilities that include, in addition to the chemistry laboratories, various biochemical screening, analytical and ADME/PK suites. The first committed research period will be 15 months, with an option for Felicitex to extend the collaboration for an additional 12 months. The group expects to have leads ready for IND-enabling studies during the first phase and a compound ready for IND filing near the end of the second phase of the collaboration.
During the first phase of the collaboration, the companies will seek to discover and develop selective inhibitors of the cancer quiescence target kinase family in order to generate multiple novel drug candidates against the quiescent cancer cells. The ultimate aim of the joint project is to deliver clinical candidates for unmet oncology indications. The companies plan joint projects on other targets related to cancer quiescence in the future.
It is currently well accepted in the scientific community that populations of malignant cells are highly heterogeneous, and whereas some of the cancer cells divide rapidly, some of the cancer cells are quiescent. All currently available cancer chemotherapies target proliferating cancer cells. Quiescent cancer cells are invulnerable to these treatments because they are not dividing. Moreover, when cancer cells are under stress, such as from chemotherapy, antiangiogenesis therapy or radiation, cancer cells often go to “sleep” or use quiescent state as a niche to hide. After the completion of treatment, these cells begin growing again and cause cancer recurrence.
Felicitex Therapeutics’ technology targets quiescent, nonresponsive cancer cells with two therapeutically beneficial outcomes: first, making cancer cells vulnerable to conventional treatments, and second, preventing cancer cells from hiding in the quiescent state for an indeterminate period of time and thereby delaying or eliminating cancer recurrence.
As Vilenchik notes, “Cancer cell quiescence is a major and, as yet, unaddressed mechanism of cancer resistance. At Felicitex, we strive to develop treatments for some of the deadliest and most resistant-to-therapy cancers, among which pancreatic cancer is particularly vicious. Our collaboration with Selvita creates the opportunity to identify novel therapeutic solutions and bring hope to cancer patients.”
Selvita is highly experienced in the area of drug discovery and particularly in development of kinase inhibitors. Over the last five years, the company says it has built a premium scientific team with one of the world’s most robust kinase inhibitor discovery platforms.
“We want to partner with best scientific teams in the world in order to explore different approaches against neoplastic processes,” noted Pawel Przewiezlikowski, CEO of Selvita, in a news release about the deal. “The unique know-how of Felicitex in the area of cancer quiescence together with scientific expertise of Selvita team will highly increase our chances to develop new highly differentiated therapeutics.”
“The primary focus of our R&D efforts is development of personalized targeted therapies that address unmet medical needs in oncology,” added Dr. Krzysztof Brzozka, chief scientific officer of Selvita. “The collaboration with Felicitex Therapeutics will be an important part of our strategy of diversified R&D approach, and will even more broaden our current pipeline of anticancer projects.”