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Univ. of Arizona Spin-Off Licenses Cancer Therapy

Scientist holding beaker

(Prylarer, Pixabay)

10 July 2015. A new company spun-off from University of Arizona licensed a cancer therapy based on research by a pharmacy faculty member at the school, also the company’s founder. Synactix Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Tucson is founded by pharmacology professor Hong-yu Li and postdoctoral fellow Brendan Fett.

Li’s lab at Arizona studies cancer therapeutics, particularly for cancer types that are not well served by current drugs or drug development programs. Their work focuses on kinases, signaling enzymes promoting tumor growth, aiming for small molecule, or low molecular weight, compounds that block the actions of those enzymes and thus inhibit the growth of tumors.

Li and colleagues are furthest along on a potential cancer treatment for medullary thyroid cancer that affects 3 to 4 percent of people with thyroid cancer. This type of cancer is associated with mutations in the REarranged during Transfection or RET gene. Li’s research developed and lab tested a compound that blocks the actions of enzymes expressed from this mutation.

Medullary thyroid tumors are highly dependent on this enzyme for their growth, a concept known as oncogene addiction. The compound developed by Li’s lab and licensed by Synactix, blocks the enzyme on which the tumor is addicted. It also blocks receptors of vascular endothelial growth factors, or VEGFs, that feed the growth of blood vessels in tumors, further starving the tumors.

Synactix Pharmaceuticals is being formed under the tutelage of Tech Launch Arizona the university’s technology transfer office. The company is still recruiting its management and raising funds. Tech Launch Arizona is helping Synactix secure a $300,000 Small Business Technology  Transfer grant from National Cancer Institute to continue development of the drug.

The company is also negotiating a new drug application from Food and Drug Administration, which allows for clinical trials. Because medullary thyroid cancer is a rare disease, the company believes its compound will qualify for orphan drug status, qualifying for certain regulatory and marketing incentives.

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