Duquesne University and FLAG Therapeutics Inc. have entered into a licensing agreement for two novel classes of dual-acting, water-soluble drugs designed to target and destroy cancer cells.
The licensing is essentially for the career portfolio—nearly 50 patents—of noted cancer researcher and Duquesne medicinal chemistry professor Dr. Aleem Gangjee. Raleigh-based FLAG Therapeutics, led by President and CEO Dr. Frank Sorgi, is being built around these compounds. Sorgi, who is a graduate of Duquesne’s School of Pharmacy, has built his pharmaceutical career around introducing early-development compounds to commercialization.
The agreement provides FLAG with exclusive worldwide rights for two families of patents, extending beyond 2035, to an extensive intellectual property portfolio. This agreement represents one of the largest licensing ventures in Duquesne’s history, according to Dr. Alan W. Seadler, associate provost for research and technology.
The antiangiogenic/antitubulin (AA/AT) compounds are the first class of compounds ever to combine these dual actions against cancer cells into one molecule, taking advantage of the narrow window of time when the extraordinary blood supply that supports the aggressive growth of tumors can be pharmaceutically suppressed.
The second class of drugs, folate-targeted anti-cancer (FTAC) compounds, is designed to selectively bind to sites found predominately on cancer cells and interrupt cell multiplication. By physically and chemically blocking tumor growth, these compounds kill tumor cells—and target only tumor cells. With this level of selectivity, these compounds are less likely to sicken cancer patients, avoiding some common and unwanted side effects often seen in cancer treatment.
Preclinical studies suggest that both classes of compounds hold the potential to treat multiple types of cancer, including some ovarian, breast, lung, brain and pancreatic cancers, and have more favorable safety and efficacy profiles than conventional therapies.
Gangjee, who serves as Distinguished Professor in the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has created compounds particularly promising in late and early stages of the disease. Additionally, these agents are not susceptible to drug resistance.
“Dr. Gangjee is a highly respected researcher and FLAG is honored to have the opportunity to advance his discoveries from the bench into the clinic—and ultimately to individuals in need of new therapeutic cancer treatment options,” Sorgi said. “We already have identified lead clinical candidates, each supported with encouraging comparative in vivo data versus current therapies, and we look forward to advancing these compounds into clinical trials.”
“We pursue the discovery of novel drugs because of the challenge to stop this dreaded disease in its tracks,” said Gangjee. “To be able to partner with a company that affords the promise that these discoveries will have—the opportunity to be used in patients who need them—is a lifelong dream.”
The pervasive Duquesne thread stretching from Gangjee’s work to an alumnus—who also is a Duquesne parent—provides a special connection, Seadler said. “This licensing agreement for a major anticancer agent portfolio is to a company that we feel can take these compounds and develop them into future therapeutics that could benefit many cancer victims. We are particularly pleased to be working with a graduate from our pharmacy school.”
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