Firm to back cancer vaccine Androgenics to work with UMAB research for prostate disease

September 13, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

A New York-based venture capital group said yesterday that it will launch a new company to develop and commercialize a vaccine for prostate cancer based on the work of a University of Maryland School of Medicine researcher.

Paramount Capital LLP, a venture capital and merchant banking firm active in biotechnology start-ups, said the new company, Androgenics Technologies, Inc., will focus on furthering research and development on five promising chemical compounds discovered by Angela Brodie of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics discovered the compounds may be useful in developing new drugs to treat prostate cancer.

Brodie found in animal studies that the compounds appear to inhibit production of the hormone androgen, a key element in the spread of prostrate cancer. Specifically, the compounds are believed to block production of an enzyme that stimulates androgen production.

"The importance of Brodie's work was immediately recognized by almost everyone in our group," said Fred Mermelstein, an analyst with Paramount.

So bullish is Paramount on the market potential for a drug developed based on one or more of Brodie's compounds, that the venture firm has begun lining up investigators to oversee human clinical trials, said Mermelstein.

Androgenics hopes to seek government approvals to launch early human trials next year, he said.

Paramount has not determined yet where Androgenics will be based.

The most likely drug to be developed from the discoveries would be a vaccine to keep prostate cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, rather than a preventive for prostate cancer itself, said Steve Fritz, director of the office of technology development at the university. Such treatments are often called "therapeutic vaccines" by medical experts.

Brodie said the compounds she and her research fellow, Yang-zhi Ling, have been working on "show promise of a more thorough blockade, even against more difficult tumors, than we've seen before."

Fritz declined to disclose exactly how much the deal is worth, but said it involves Paramount paying the university several hundred thousand dollars in signing and research milestone fees. Paramount will fund Brodie's research on the anti-cancer compounds for three years, said Fritz.

The larger financial reward for the university would come in the form of sales royalties, should a vaccine or other treatment ever be commercialized, although there is no guarantee that will happen. The university and Brodie would share those royalties.

About 334,000 men in the United States are expected to be stricken with prostate cancer this year and about 42,000 to die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

Prostate cancer usually is treated by surgery, including removal of the testicles, where androgen is produced, and chemotherapy to shrink tumors.

Drugs called "testosterone blockers," which curb production of the hormone, also are used.

Researchers have found, however, that cancer is able to get an even more potent hormone, known as DHT, from the adrenal glands. DHT fuels tumor growth.

Brodie said her lab studies show the compounds block DHT production.

Androgenics faces plenty of competition in the race to develop powerful new treatments to fight prostate cancer.

A number of biotechnology companies, including EntreMed Inc. and PerImmune in Maryland, are attempting to develop vaccines based on different approaches.

EntreMed is attempting to develop treatments to curb new blood vessel growth, which tumors use to grow. Other companies, like Jenner Technologies Inc. of Danville, Calif., are developing vaccines that stimulate the body's immune system to fight cancer.

Some experimental treatments, such as Jenner's, are in early human clinical trials to assess their effectiveness.

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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