Cerulean Pharma Makes Progress in Attacking the Big C with Tiny Drugs

9/7/10

Cerulean Pharma has made lots of progress since its early days in 2007 when I first visited the biotech startup, then called Tempo Pharmaceuticals, and company chairman Alan Crane broke out his laptop to show me an animation of the newly hatched firm’s nanoparticle drugs congregating inside tumors and killing them.

The Cambridge, MA-based startup, which has raised $37 million, is now working on building clinical-trial evidence that its lead nanoparticle drug can kill tumor cells for real. Oliver Fetzer, Cerulean’s chief executive, also told me that the firm is working on raising a new funding round to bring the drug, dubbed CRLX101, further into clinical development for treating solid tumors while developing earlier-stage molecules as well.

There’s been lots of hype about the promise of nanotechnology in medicine. Cerulean is a rare case of a firm that has shown its nanoparticles could be safe for humans while delivering some of the hoped-for benefits of the tiny molecules. The company reported late last month that its lead drug was well tolerated in an initial human study. With that data, it has begun enrolling patients into its next, Phase IIa, clinical trial, which aims to provide more evidence of the drug’s ability to treat solid tumors such as lung cancer, Fetzer said. Cerulean is further along in clinical development that its local rival in the nanoparticle-based cancer drug field, Cambridge-based Bind Biosciences.

Already, Cerulean has seen how its lead nanoparticle, which contains the anti-cancer compound camptothecin, helps keep the active drug inside tumors for much longer than if the patient received the compound alone. The nanoparticle also large enough to keep it from being removed from the body by the kidneys, where it could cause side effects, but small enough to enter tumor cells to deliver the cancer-killing agent. Development of camptothecin as a stand-alone cancer drug had been scrapped years ago because of the compound’s toxic side effects, but Cerulean’s nanoparticles might be able to limit those effects by keeping the drug concentrated in the tumor cells and away from healthy tissues.

“Cerulean is at this point the only the company that has an … Next Page »

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