Artios Pharma will fund and collaborate with a research group at Masaryk University in Brno to develop cancer treatments targeting DNA repair processes.

Artios Pharma, in Cambridge, is building a pipeline of cancer treatments based on the DNA-damage response (DDR) through a series of collaborations that include Cancer Research UK. Its latest addition is a research group at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, led by DDR experts Lumir Krejci and Kamil Paruch.

The agreement will initially run for two years, with the possibility to be extended for up to two more years, during which Artios Pharma will fund and collaborate with the research group to undertake an R&D program on nuclease targets in exchange for the option to in-license one or more nuclease programs to continue their development and commercialization.

Artios’ particular interest in nucleases stems from their essential role in the initiation of DNA repair mechanisms. All cell types suffer DNA damage daily in healthy individuals, which is then fixed via DDR pathways. Cancer cells, though, often present mutations that inhibit certain DNA repair pathways, making them dependent on those remaining. By inhibiting specific nucleases, tumoral cells reliant on them die whereas healthy cells can survive on alternative pathways.

Artios Pharma DDR Cancer

Artios Pharma’s lead program targets DNA polymerase theta (Polθ), a DNA repair enzyme whose expression is low in normal tissues but has been found to be upregulated in breast, ovarian, head and neck, and lung cancer. Now a year old, the company is planning to take the candidate into a first-in-human trial by 2019 or 2020.

Polθ and a second undisclosed DDR target were in-licensed from Artios’ partner Cambridge Research UK, with which Artios Pharma is partnered. The biotech’s strategy consists in drawing from the expertise of DNA repair researchers worldwide, of which Masaryk University is the second to be revealed, to build up a strong pipeline.

Artios Pharma is supporting its growing pipeline with €29M (£25M) raised in Series A last September from SV Life Sciences, Merck Ventures, Imperial Innovations, Arix Bioscience, CRT Pioneer Fund and AbbVie Ventures. With the discovery of DNA repair being the protagonist of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2015, DDR drugs seem a solid investment. As an example, AstraZeneca’s Lynparza (olaparib), approved for ovarian cancer by the EMA and the FDA in 2014, is expected to reach €1.8Bn a year in peak sales.


Images via Mopic / Shutterstock; Artios Pharma

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