Cytostatic drugs play a key role in the treatment of cancer: when combined with immunotherapy, they can be used to treat, for example, metastatic cancers. However, these drugs have severe side effects that reduce patients’ quality of life.
ReCurE is now developing new, gentler treatments to replace cytostatic drugs alongside immunotherapies. These treatments are based on the MYC gene, which is expressed in about 70% of all cancers, says team head Professor Juha Klefström.
“It’s the kind of driver without which it’s practically impossible for cancer to develop,” he explains.
By targeting medication on the MYC gene, the patient’s immune system could be triggered in the same way as with cytostatic drugs, only without side effects. The ReCurE team’s goal is ambitious, as currently no MYC-directed drugs are available on the market. If successfully developed, such drugs could be useful in the treatment of several cancers causing solid tumours, such as breast, prostate and lung cancers.
“The global market would be vast,” says Margareta Klabbers, the team’s commercialisation specialist.
The structure of the MYC gene makes it difficult to develop a drug targeting it. ReCurE has addressed this problem alongside the University of California, San Francisco by investigating the weaknesses the gene causes in cell metabolism and the regulation of, for instance, the cell cycle. This way, several new drug targets have been discovered, which the universities are exploring together.
“In the ReCurE project, we are beginning to construct various drug development candidates around them,” Klefström explains.
The team is also examining models based on a living cancer tissue sample that provide interesting platforms for testing drugs.
In early 2023, ReCurE received Business Finland’s Research to Business funding to prepare the commercialisation of its idea. The funding has allowed the team of cancer biologists to hire a medicinal chemist along with Klabbers, a lawyer by training. During the two-year project, the team will ensure that all legal issues involving patient data and drug development are resolved before further development.
“Laying the groundwork is key for enabling commercialisation,” states Klabbers.
The team will use the Research to Business funding to develop its validation methods and test its drug candidates as far as possible. It will also apply for patents for promising candidates.
The next step is to establish a spinout company to take the drug molecules towards phase 1, that is, clinical trials. This is a critical stage. If the trials go well, a major pharmaceutical company could be interested in acquiring the spinout and taking any viable drug molecules forward in the development pipeline.
A strong foundation is a must, as ReCurE aims to take its spinout first to the United States and then to the global cancer treatment market. It is important to identify a suitable niche within the broad customer segment.
“The Research to Business project plays a significant role in this process,” says Klabbers.
The team would like to initiate discussions with investors as early as 2024 to take their views into account in refining the concept. ReCurE is seeking early-stage funders with the courage to invest in an ambitious biotech spinout.
The development journey will take years, with the candidate’s value gradually rising throughout. If all goes to plan, the ReCurE innovation could transform the day-to-day lives of many cancer patients. Drugs based on the MYC gene would be gentler and improve patients’ quality of life.
“A combination treatment with immunotherapy would provide the same or even slightly better results than those offered today, but without patients suffering from the adverse effects of current therapies,” notes Klefström.
The combination of immunotherapy and cytostatic drugs can be used to treat metastatic cancers, for instance. However, cytostatic therapy has very strong side effects that reduce patients’ quality of life.
The ReCurE team is developing novel, gentler therapies based on the MYC gene, the driving force behind many cancers that cause solid tumours. Combined with immunotherapy, the new drugs could produce the same treatment outcomes without the side effects associated with cytostatic agents.
ReCurE aims to establish a biotech spinout to develop its own drug candidates and drug testing platforms. The team is aiming first for the United States and then for the global cancer treatment market.
ReCurE is seeking collaboration partners interested in the concept. The team is also happy to talk with investors willing to offer early-stage funding for an ambitious biotechnology project.
Juha Klefström, Research Professor
Project Lead and Principal Investigator
Margareta Klabbers (LL.M., M.Sc)