Cyterix Develops New Twist on an Old Idea, With ‘Smart Bomb’ Cancer Drugs

6/22/11Follow @xconomy

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the potential to be a platform company that generates multiple product candidates. The investment will go toward validating some new enzyme targets, and plugging in different toxins into the back end of the small molecules. While most clinical trials at the initial stage are about evaluating safety at a variety of doses, Cyterix ought to get a very clear idea early on about its efficacy profile, because if it can really get the drug to accumulate only in tumors, it ought to be able to jack up the dose much higher than most cancer drugs can go today. Many oncologists try to max out the dose of cancer drugs—knowing it’s hard on the patient—because a lot of studies have shown that when patients can tolerate more chemo, they do better.

“We think you can push envelope on dosing,” Everett says.

Investors and researchers have seen this movie before, and like anything, the proof will be in the data. When I asked Everett what he’s afraid of, he said it was the same thing most companies fear—that the drug hits unintended biological targets outside the tumor.

Giebel, of SV Life Sciences, said that’s exactly the risk he sees as Cyterix finishes up its animal tests and gets ready for clinical trials. But what he said he likes is that the technology can be used to soup up existing drugs which are already known to be potent, which reduces the risk of one of those costly late-stage failures.

“What immediately struck me as different here was you can apply this technology to drugs already on the market,” Giebel says. “There could be companies out there with drugs that looked good, but were limited by a maximum tolerated dose, which was not sufficient to get maximum efficacy. But if there’s a way to take a drug and give more of it, and be safe, you can have more efficacy.”

It won’t take a decade of work, and a mountain of cash, to find out in early trials whether Cyterix can jack up the dosing on existing cancer drugs. And while nothing is certain to translate from Phase I to Phase II and Phase III, this is a bet Giebel said he and his partners were willing to make. It’s an unusual gamble for SV, which doesn’t often invest in cancer drug developers because of the risk, he says.

The academic researcher in Everett could go on all afternoon about the chemistry challenges with this platform, but he’s clearly picking up on how to talk the talk with VCs (and journalists). He describes the company in what you’d have to call a simple, straightforward way. “You got to remember it’s about superior efficacy and safety. We’re speaking to both points,” Everett says.

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