Start-Up Previews (03/2009)
A preview of the emerging health care companies profiled in the current issue of Start-Up. This month's profile group, "Treating Late-Stage Prostate Cancer," features profiles of AndroBioSys, Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, Colby Pharmaceuticals and Med Discovery. Plus these Start-Ups Across Health Care: AeonClad Biomedical, Arete Therapeutics, Bonovo Orthopedics and Thrasos Therapeutics.
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Switzerland's Med Discovery was founded on the discovery of a prostate cancer target, human kallikrein 2, a key protease associated with prostate biology that is thought to contribute to cancer progression and development. The start-up's lead protease inhibitor targets hK2 and is based on the natural serine protease inhibitor ACT, which the company believes will avoid the selectivity and toxicities of other protease inhibitors. Med Discovery is developing the candidate for prostate cancer, but it believes it also has potential for treating skin disorders and for immunological treatment of cancer.
Bone morphogenetic proteins interact with a number of related but structurally distinct BMP receptors, each with different biological effects, and researchers have eyed BMP for a number of therapeutic indications. But the proteins come with a big caveat: they tend to promote inappropriate bone growth at sites of infection and the spot where injected, and that side effect has derailed many therapeutic efforts. Thrasos Therapeutics Inc. aims to get around that problem by designing agonists that selectively activate the BMP-7 receptors that promote tissue growth and protection, without affecting those receptors that cause bone growth. Its lead programs include compounds designed to prevent and treat acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.
Bellicum Pharmaceuticals is developing a therapeutic vaccine for late-stage prostate cancer. The start-up believes that one of the reasons vaccines have floundered in the clinic may be negative feedback loops that desensitize the vaccine before it's had a chance to work. Bellicum's autologous vaccine is designed to avoid that. Its dimerizer agent is injected 24 hours after the vaccine, giving the dendritic cells time to migrate to draining lymph nodes before activation. When therapeutic vaccine cells are stimulated ex-vivo, they begin releasing key cytokines, such as IL-12, immediately.