WINNIPEG, Manitoba—CanAm Bioresearch Inc. and EpiTherapeutics ApS of Denmark have signed a medicinal chemistry research services agreement for the development of novel innovative anticancer drugs.
The companies have been working together since early this year, notes Dr. Lars-Ole Gerlach, executive vice president of R&D at EpiTherapeutics.
"We were virtual until recently and now have 15 people on staff. We do the early biology ourselves, and then depend on CROs for their contributions. CanAm is very skilled in synthesis and medicinal chemistry—and the chemistry between the companies is very good as well—so we have been very pleased to enter into formalized drug discovery collaboration. CanAm has significant expertise and experience in new drug discovery medicinal chemistry and a proven track record of delivering results. We look forward to a fruitful collaboration with the aim of developing novel anticancer drugs within the promising new area of epigenetics."
"We were first introduced to EpiTherapeutics by their current vice president of chemistry, Dr. Marc Labelle," explains CanAm President Marcus Enns.
The collaboration began with a small project employing one chemist part-time. CanAm was able to produce quality results and meet strict timelines, which has enabled the project to expand. In early May of this year, senior research staff from EpiTherapeutics came to visit CanAm's facility in Winnipeg.
"Two weeks later, we inked a formal research services agreement to help solidify our collaboration. This collaboration further validates CanAm's approach and expertise in drug discovery chemistry," says Enns.
EpiTherapeutics' drug development platform is based on the research in epigenetics conducted by Prof. Kristian Helin and his group at Biotech Research & Innovation Centre at the University of Copenhagen, whose major contribution to the field has been advancing the understanding of how genes get turned on and off at certain times in certain cells regulated by epigenetics. Helin founded EpiTherapeutics, and his lab and the company are located a few hundred yards from each other, Gerlach notes.
Epigenetics, which is the study of inherited changes driven by the differential expression of genes through mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence, is a rapidly emerging research area with potential to help find new treatments for cancer patients by modifying DNA and chromatin, both of which play a role in tumor development. EpiTherapeutics has identified new target enzymes involved in the regulation of transcription in cancer and are developing new chemical entities (NCEs) that could control this process.
"CanAm's role will be to use the extensive experience and synthesis skills of our scientists to develop difficult compounds to test the key hypotheses of these new targets," says Enns.
He notes that CanAm and specialized CROs generally have seen an increase in their business over the past two to three years as virtual biotechs continue to spring up, and large pharmas seek to increase efficiency and control R&D costs.
"Coupled with this, our convenient location, along with our ability to provide quality results in a very cost effective manner, has allowed our business to grow quite rapidly, especially in the past 12 months. We are currently engaged in contract work with other clients and expect to enter other collaborative agreements in the near future, as we continue to make a name for ourselves in the competitive CRO environment," Enns says.
For its part, EpiTherapeutics' growth beyond its 15 current staffers will depend on its success at developing future targets and future collaborations.
"We have no plans to become a full-line pharma," says Gerlach. "We'll continue to do the biology and farm out the medicinal chemistry and clinical studies."