Cyclacel Looks to ASCO as Showcase for Potent Cancer-Fighting Cocktail

5/31/11Follow @arleneweintraub

For most Big Pharma companies, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is one of dozens of important venues for spotlighting data on experimental drugs. But for tiny Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CYCC)—which is focused on developing cancer treatments—the confab of oncologists, cancer researchers, and drugmakers is the make-or-break event of the year. “We live and die by the ASCO timetable,” says Spiro Rombotis, CEO of Cyclacel, which is based in Berkeley Heights, NJ.

That timetable reached a key point on May 19, when ASCO released the abstract for Cyclacel’s poster presentation of a pivotal trial of sapacitabine, its oral drug to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a deadly form of blood cancer. On June 6 at the ASCO conference in Chicago, Cyclacel will present detailed data from the trial, in which its drug is being tested in combination with an existing product called decitabine (Dacogen), developed by Eisai.

Some on Wall Street are clearly expecting good news. Roth Capital Partners analyst Joseph Pantginis wrote in a May 19 report that he was “encouraged by this first look into the combination of the two drugs.” He has a “buy” on Cyclacel’s stock and a 12-month price target of $7. The company’s shares closed at $1.63 on May 27.

The journey to Phase 3 for sapacitabine has been a long one for Cyclacel. The company was founded in the UK in 1996 by David Lane, a professor at the University of Dundee who discovered that a protein called p53 is a key player in tumor suppression. “He showed you could induce lethality in cancer cells that were resistant to other therapies,” Rombotis says.

Cyclacel was founded on the hope of developing compounds that could control “cell cycle regulation”—essentially by inducing cancer cells to commit suicide, while sparing the normal cells around them. Cyclacel raised more than $50 million in private financings, which was enough to support 85 employees and five drug-development programs, Spiro says.

The company went public in 2006, moved its headquarters to New Jersey—and promptly ran headfirst into one of the worst market downturns in history. Desperate to reduce its cash burn, Cyclacel’s management team shrunk its staff to 21, and pared down … Next Page »

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