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Drug company buys Duquesne prof's cancer research

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Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A North Carolina drug company has purchased the life's work of a Duquesne University professor, which could pave the way for a pair of anti-cancer compounds he developed to make it to market.

Duquesne announced on Wednesday that FLAG Therapeutics Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., has obtained an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement that includes two classes of small, water-soluble, anti-cancer molecules developed by Duquesne University professor Aleem Gangjee.

Neither party would disclose the terms of the agreement.

Gangjee, a professor of medicinal chemistry at Duquesne since 1979, called it a dream come true for his portfolio, which represents 32 years of research.

“We use a cliché in the business: ‘from bench to bedside.' The bench is the work in the lab developing a molecule from a scientific point of view. But there is a huge gap between taking the drug from the bench to the patient. FLAG is going to help us take the drug from the bench to the bedside,” Gangjee said.

The agreement between FLAG and Duquesne University covers a vast library of compounds and an intellectual-property portfolio protected by more than 50 U.S. and international patents. Gangjee holds the patents, but Duquesne holds rights to his research.

Frank L. Sorgi, president and CEO of FLAG, said he hopes to obtain approval to bring the compounds to human clinical trials within two years.

FLAG Therapeutics is a privately held company formed this year by Sorgi, who has master's degrees in pharmacy and business administration from Duquesne.

Industry experts say it typically takes 10 years and $1 billion to bring a new drug to market. Human clinical trials required to get FDA approval can take two to 5 12 years.

According to Fierce Biotech, an industry trade journal, only about five of 5,000 compounds make it through the entire FDA approval process.

Sorgi said Gangjee's work laid a foundation for streamlined development of drugs that hold a potential to treat multiple cancers.

“He built these molecules knowing what he wanted them to do. He knows how and why they work. He's already identified several compounds that are very promising and successful in animal studies,” Sorgi said.

Gangjee's compounds represent two novel classes of small molecules designed to target and destroy cancer cells: anti-angiogenic/anti-tubulin (AA/AT) compounds and folate-targeted anti-cancer (FTAC) compounds.

Sorgi said Gangjee built the AA/AT compounds to do two things at once: They cut off the blood supply to cancer tumors, shrinking them, and deliver a second punch to kill the shrunken tumor.

“So you are able to kill the cells and don't get the nasty side effects of traditional chemo,” Sorgi said.

The FTAC compounds focus only on cancer cells, bypassing healthy cells.

Jan Beumer, a translational researcher and co-head of the first phase of human testing for clinical drug trials at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said the concept of having a single molecule hit two targets is novel and would be difficult to perfect.

“What they're doing is really good. Just getting a company interested in an academic compound is good. But I have seen compounds go from animal trials to human trials and fail,” Beumer said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996.

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