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a thousand times smaller dose of radiation” than what’s typically given with beta-emitting drugs, he says.
Actinium plans to initially develop the drug for AML patients who are over 60 and not strong enough to endure bone marrow transplant, which is one of the more commonly used treatments for the disease. “Among older patients, survival rates are very low, and only a small percentage are eligible for bone marrow transplants,” says co-founder Sheinberg, who is a professor of medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and at Weill-Cornell University Medical College in New York. “There’s a huge need for tolerable treatments that prolong survival.”
Figuring out how to produce Actinium 225 at commercial quantities has not been easy. The company worked with a group of scientists in Germany to develop the manufacturing technology. One of the key collaborators was Cuban, which turned out to be a huge complication, Cicic says. “It took months to get him to a meeting here because there were issues with his visa,” Cicic says. “It took lots of intervention.” Eventually the visa issues were sorted out, and Actinium developed a manufacturing plan that it will put into place in time to meet demand, Cicic says. For now, though, the company only needs a small quantity of the isotope for clinical trials, which it is able to get from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
On July 11, Actinium boosted its pipeline by licensing an antibody product developed at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The drug is designed to destroy the bone marrow of patients with blood cancers, as a way of preparing them for bone marrow transplants. The antibody is currently linked to radioactive iodine, a gamma-emitting isotope, but Cicic says the plan is to ultimately transition it to Actinium’s alpha-emitting platform.
Actinium has raised about $60 million in several rounds of funding, says Sandeth Seth, senior managing director and head of healthcare investment banking at Laidlaw & Co., which managed the company’s $8 million Series E financing last year. Actinium initially raised seed funding from Organon, a Dutch company that’s now owned by Merck (NYSE: MRK), and from a billionaire philanthropist whom the company will not name.
Seth says Actinium will do a $20 million private placement after Labor Day and then consider an “alternative public offering,” which would likely involve merging it into a shell company that’s already publicly traded. “The cash needs as we transition from a platform company to a product company are getting to the point where the private markets can’t sustain it anymore,” Seth says.
Actinium may well generate some interest on Wall Street, where investors have been flocking to companies that are coming up with innovative ways to link cancer-killing agents to antibodies. Among the companies that have made strides with “antibody drug conjugates”—cancer-targeting antibodies linked to toxins—are Roche unit Genentech, Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN), and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE).
Cicic hopes the idea that Sheinberg has been nurturing for so many years at Actinium will also catch on with investors. “This whole idea of arming antibodies with targeted payload therapies has been simmering for a while,” Cicic says. “People recognize it’s a very viable way to fight cancer.”
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