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ACT Inks Fifth Licensing Deal with University of Louisville for Oncology-Related IP

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Advanced Cancer Therapeutics said today that it has exclusively licensed the rights to develop and commercialize small-molecule inhibitors of choline kinase as cancer therapeutics from the University of Louisville's James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

The agreement is the fifth licensing deal, and fourth in the area of cancer therapeutics, inked between U of L and ACT since the company was founded in 2007 by local venture capitalists and U of L's tech-transfer office to serve as a commercialization "pipeline" for anti-cancer compounds discovered at the school.

"ACT is a unique biotechnology company in that we have a rich portfolio of potential breakthrough anti-cancer products from which to select through our innovative business arrangement" with U of L, Randall Riggs, president and CEO of ACT, said in a statement.

The university owns 30 percent of ACT, which is based in Louisville. The remainder of the company is owned by private investors.

Under their arrangement, ACT takes "a first look" at oncology-related research findings from the university, evaluates the technologies for commercial potential, and licenses the ones it is interested in, which is different from a right of first refusal situation, James Zanewicz, director of the U of L Office of Technology Transfer, told BTW.

"When investigators submit their inventions to the OTT, they have to say whether they will allow ACT to look at it," Zanewicz said. "And they can also say whether they would prefer to look at other options," such as forming their own startup company around the technology, he added.

"But I must say that most researchers have decided to work with ACT because it's a pretty good company to work with," Zanewicz said. "Most of the researchers here have been very responsive to what we're trying to do."

Under the terms of the most recent agreement, ACT will attempt to develop and commercialize choline kinase inhibitors identified by Brown Cancer Center researchers John Trent, Brian Clem, Sucheta Telang, and Jason Chesney.

The researchers discovered that removing the gene for choline kinase blocked signals required for tumors to survive. Using molecular modeling and structure-based drug design methods developed by Trent, they screened millions of chemicals to identify one that turned off the enzyme, and found that it was able to kill lung tumors in mice.

ACT has also announced licensing agreements with U of L for three other anti-cancer compounds with differing mechanisms of action.

In March 2008, ACT said it had exclusively licensed the rights to develop and market a dual-mechanism anti-cancer therapeutic called 3PO, and its related compounds, from Brown Cancer Center (see BTW, 3/5/2008).

Discovered by Chesney and John Trent, 3PO inhibits a key enzyme, PFKFB3, which suppresses both sugar metabolism and cell proliferation in cancer cells.

And later that same month, ACT licensed the anti-angiogenic compound 4-IPP, and related compounds, from the school (see BTW, 3/26/2008).

This compound, discovered by Trent and Brown Cancer Researcher Robert Mitchell, inhibits a protein called macrophage migration inhibiting factor, and blocks tumor-specific angiogenesis. It has also demonstrated a favorable safety profile in laboratory studies. While initially targeted for oncology applications, ACT is also examining 4-IPP for its potential in treating autoimmune-related diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

ACT also has in its pipeline a synthetic oligonucleotide compound that it licensed from U of L called PU27, which represents a naturally occurring, genomic DNA sequence that is present in two copies in every human cell.

PU27 can form quadruplex DNA and is located in the promoter of the c-myc gene, which is involved in more than 80 percent of human tumors, ACT said. The company also said it has demonstrated that adding exogenous PU27 inhibits the growth of cancer cells but has no effect on nonmalignant cells. It has not disclosed the identities of the U of L researchers that developed this compound.

In July 2008, ACT also said it had exclusively licensed from Brown Cancer Center development and commercialization rights to monovalent vaccines derived from the minor capsid protein, or L2 protein, of human papillomavirus (see BTW, 7/23/2008).

This technology, based on research conducted by University of Louisville faculty members Kenneth Palmer, Bennett Jenson, and others, was expected to advance development of ACT’s HPV vaccine program, the company said.

Though the HPV vaccine is not cancer-related per se, HPV is well-known as the leading cause of cervical cancer and is increasingly implicated in other forms of cancer, such as head and neck.

ACT combined that licensing deal with a second arrangement with Owensboro’s Kentucky BioProcessing for rights to KBP’s Geneware plant-based gene expression system for developing an HPV vaccine, which ACT plans to use to produce a cheaper vaccine than the currently available Gardasil vaccine.

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