Working in the transition: A move from preclinical to clinical

Created around findings from Lund University, biotech Cantargia is developing an antibody-based cancer treatment that both attacks cancer cells and targets tumour inflammation. This year will be an important year for the company as its lead drug has moved from the bench to the clinic.

Cancer treatments are becoming increasingly effective, but as they seldom result in a cure, there are still challenges to be faced. Some patients will respond initially to treatment and then relapse, and the cancer returns. For others, such as those with pancreatic cancer, their disease may not be discovered until a late stage. Cantargia is using its lead drug, CAN04, to meet these challenges. The antibody-based drug targets IL1RAP, which is found on a number of different tumours, and which is involved in both tumour growth and inflammation.

Focusing on cancer
The company was initially based around the founders' findings of the potential relevance of IL1RAP in leukemia. While this target was already described in inflammation, Professor Thoas Fioretos and Dr Marcus Järås discovered its potential as a therapeutic target on leukaemia stem cells. Since this discovery, the company has expanded its focus to cover a wide range of cancers and autoimmune disease.

Transition to the clinic
The lead antibody, CAN04, recently moved into a phase 1/2a trial in the Benelux countries and Scandinavia.
"This is an important milestone for us as the company moves from preclinical to clinical stage. It is a big transition for us and for our investors," said Göran Forsberg, CEO.
The first part of the study will focus on safety and dose finding in four different cancers: non-small cell lung cancer, and pancreatic, colorectal, and triple negative breast cancer. Once the target dose is elucidated, in the phase 1 part, the second (phase 2a) part of the study will look at efficacy, including biomarkers, and will narrow down to pancreatic cancer and NSCLC. In parallel, once phase 1 results are available, preparations will start for a second clinical trial, a phase 2a in leukaemia.
Cantargia's technology also has potential for applications in autoimmune disease.
"In our biological platform, it is a small step from cancer to autoimmune disease. We are also aware that expanding the areas we focus on also reduces risk for us and for our investors," said Forsberg.
Cantargia has signed a collaboration agreement with one of the pioneers in antibody technology, Panorama Research Inc in California. Panorama will invest in the project to optimise an antibody in the CANxx project, for treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and will subsequently develop the cell line for GMP production. This is a risk-sharing deal, with Panorama in the frame for royalties on payments from any future partners in return for its investment of knowledge and labour.

Remaining virtual
Cantargia has five full-time people, along with a handful of consultants. The team has extensive experience from development of novel compounds in both biotech as well as big pharma environment.
"We started with a virtual model, as the company began as a university spinout, and the founders wanted to remain as University scientists rather than a company employees. To allow this we outsourced the research to their labs, as well as to specialists, and retained a core team. We see this as an effective and long-term business model; we do plan to expand, but only by a few more people. We have gone from a discovery in university environment to a public clinical stage company in just seven to eight years."
As part of this model, once CAN04 has reached phase 2a, Cantargia will seek a partner.
"We are flexible – there are a number of attractive business models from a co-development agreement to a trade sale of the company. The partner will then finance CAN04, while Cantargia can further advance the other program."


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