Mersana Therapeutics Advancing Anti-Tumor Treatment with Novel Drug-Delivery Technology

12/8/09

Mersana Therapeutics is picking up momentum, thanks to the positive data its first anti-cancer drug is generating in a Phase I clinical trial. The study is providing evidence that the Cambridge, MA-based firm’s drug delivery technology works in humans.

The startup’s “Fleximer” technology—which uses sugar-derived polymers to deliver treatments into cells—has the potential to rescue from the scrap heap a number of cancer drugs that proved to be effective in humans but too toxic to gain FDA approval. The firm’s lead treatment, dubbed XMT-1001, has shown that the technology can deliver the anti-cancer agent camptothecin at doses that would be toxic to patients were it not for the delivery system.

This technology could be valuable to big drug companies, which often have to drop development of cancer-killing drugs because of the harm such treatments cause to healthy tissue. The active ingredient in the firm’s lead treatment, camptothecin, has been known for decades for its anti-tumor activity. New York-based drug giant Pfizer and British pharma powerhouse GlaxoSmithKline market chemotherapy treatments related to camptothecin, irinotecan (Camptosar) and topotecan (Hycamtin), respectively. But those treatments can cause severe diarrhea or suppress certain immune functions.

Julie Olson, Mersana’s CEO, told me in a recent interview that the firm’s lead drug, XMT-1001, does not seem to cause severe diarrhea, like irinotecan, nor does it cause serious bladder inflammation like regular camptothecin does. The former Pfizer executive also noted that the sugar-derived polymers that the firm uses to deliver the drug are biodegradable and can be given at relatively high doses without accumulating in peoples’ kidneys, as the peptides used in some other drug-delivery systems sometimes do.

Olson said she has been on the lookout for new investors and potential corporate partners to provide more financial fuel to drive Mersana’s lead drug into Phase II clinical trials, planned to begin next year, and to fund other R&D efforts at the 20-person firm. She hopes to land a financing deal by the end of 2009, from venture backers, a corporate partner, or a combination of the two.

Seven-year-old Mersana has raised a total of more than … Next Page »

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