Ascent Therapeutics’ Blood Cancer Drug Could Rival Genzyme’s Mozobil

9/16/09

Ascent Therapeutics is advancing several of its proprietary “pepducin” drugs through early testing, with a lead candidate emerging as a potential rival to Genzyme’s drug plerixafor (Mozobil) for patients with certain types of blood cancer. Cambridge, MA-based Ascent is touting some of its early research at a biotechnology conference in Zurich, Switzerland this week in hopes of attracting new pharmaceutical partners.

Rick Jones, CEO of Ascent, spoke with me from the Sachs Biotechnology in Europe Conference in Zurich yesterday about the startup’s research progress. Among other developments, the firm is saying that its drug was at least as effective as Genzyme’s plerixafor in spurring the movement of stem cells out of the bone marrow in animal tests. The potential drug could be used like plerixafor for patients with such blood cancers as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma who need blood-forming stem cell transplants.

Ascent has enough cash in the bank from its $19 million Series A round to support its operations for about a year, Jones said. That’s not a long time in biotech, since it often takes a decade or longer to develop and garner approval for a new drug. The CEO wants to form two or more partnerships with large pharma companies not only to advance his company’s research funding and scope, but also to win more confidence from venture backers and attract future rounds of financing. Meantime, Jones is hoping that Swiss drug giant Novartis opts to exercise an option it has purchased from Ascent to gain certain rights to the drug candidates for undisclosed uses.

“With the current environment we just can’t go out and ask for $20 million or $30 million to get ourselves into the clinic without having some other proof that we’ve succeeded in building up this platform,” Jones said. “And the venture capitalists are basically telling me that what they’d like to see is another couple of [pharma] companies buy into the platform.”

In a sense, Ascent is fortunate to have closed its first round of venture capital—from blue chip VC outfits including … Next Page »

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