Nodality Nears Market With Technology to Get the Right Cancer Drug to the Right Patients

9/16/10Follow @xconomy

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it has two more deals that are being discussed, Parkinson says. Several scientific papers that describe insights from the Nodality test for acute myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia are being reviewed for publication, he says.

One paper that was published in PloS One last month describes how Nodality scientists saw three distinct patterns emerge when acute myeloid leukemia patients got a chemotherapy drug, etoposide, which caused them to respond in different ways. Nodality looked at some of the well-known hot targets in cancer biology today, like the PI3kinase, Jak/Stat, and apoptosis pathways involved in programmed cell death.

Parkinson is quite familiar with all those targets, from the perspective of science, medicine, and business. He is an oncologist by training, with a glowing resume. Before joining the startup in September 2007, he held senior-level positions at Biogen Idec, Amgen, Novartis, and the National Cancer Institute. He played a key role in bringing Novartis’s imatinib (Gleevec) to the market, a huge step forward for treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia.

But, for every hit that shows up in a resume like that, there are plenty of duds that people don’t like to talk as much about. All the experience in drug development made him want to find a way to increase the batting average in development.

“One of the great frustrations I’ve had as a drug development professional is that all too often I felt that the perfectly good drugs we were developing, the molecules were designed and were performing exactly with particular targets, and those targets we knew from biological studies were relevant targets,” Parkinson says. “But on the other hand, the frustration was that as clinical developers we were forced to put them into patients that were categorized in ways that were outdated. It was all based on anatomical, morphological concepts of disease that date to the 1800s.”

Feeling that frustration, Parkinson walked into a lecture hall in December 2006 and was fascinated by something he heard in a talk by Nolan, the Stanford University biologist and scientific founder of South San Francisco-based Rigel Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RIGL). Laboratory instruments were becoming powerful enough to look inside cancer cells of an individual patient with, say, a form of leukemia, and see how it differs at the molecular level from other people with the same diagnosis—and even how one tumor in a single patient can have a variety of different mutations.

Armed with this kind of knowledge, the thinking went, cancer doctors would be able to do away with old-school organ-based classifications like lung cancer or breast cancer, in favor of this more nuanced view of what is going wrong in the biological pathways of an individual breast tumor, and even how those pathways differ from one region of the tumor to another (a concept known as “tumor heterogeneity“). If drug developers and physicians could get a better idea of what kind of tumors they were really dealing with, the … Next Page »

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