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Drug Development In Pursuit of Personalized Medicine: ChemGenex


As a buzzword, personalized medicine is enjoying a remarkable boost in popularity, but there are only a few examples of it in actual practice. The most rudimentary form, where a molecular diagnostic test is used to identify subpopulations of patients more likely to benefit from a particular drug, is exemplified by Novartis’ Gleevec for certain types of cancer.

Now a new company is hoping to replicate this therapeutic strategy — and to translate that into financial success. Formed last June from the merger of ChemGenex of Menlo Park, Calif., and AGT Biosciences of Australia, ChemGenex Pharmaceuticals has a drug in early phase II clinical testing that the company hopes to optimize for cancer patients based on their ability to metabolize drugs via acetylation. With a DNA assay to determine which patients are slow versus fast acetylators (slow acetylators can tolerate greater doses of the anticancer drug), ChemGenex hopes to increase the efficacy of the drug, known as Quinamed, by calibrating the dose to a prostate cancer patient’s acetylation rate.

In November, the company announced that it had completed a phase I trial of Quinamed on 32 patients to evaluate its safety. ChemGenex has begun enrolling patients for a phase II clinical study of Quinamed designed to test out the dosing regimen on up to 30 patients at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center in Tennessee.

So far, however, ChemGenex’s two drugs in clinical trials, Quinamed and Cleflatonin, a drug in phase II trials for chronic myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome, are compounds originally discovered by researchers at the National Cancer Institute. The company is relying on its target discovery apparatus, primarily based in Australia, to provide fodder for a new set of compounds promising enough to enter the clinic.

In Australia, the former AGT Biosciences has developed a technology platform around animal model research from Deakin University and a large database of patient DNA samples located at the International Diabetes Institute. The company’s internal research focuses on cancer, and currently ChemGenex has collaborations with Merck KGaA in Germany and Vernalis, a British biotech, to provide validated drug targets for diabetes and depression in return for research funding, milestone payments, and royalties on sales.

Web: link to ASCO abstract:,1003,_12-002643-00_18-0026-00_19-003613,00.asp

— John S. MacNeil


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