The University of Utah Research Foundation has partnered with Venn Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on developing immune priming oncology therapies, to advance its novel small molecule β-catenin/BCL9 inhibitor, invented by Dr. Haitao (Mark) Ji.
Current immuno-oncology therapies generate objective responses in 10% to 30% of patients and Venn aims to develop therapies that will expand the number of patients benefiting from these new treatment modalities.
The Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway plays a critical role in regulating oncogenesis and metastasis of many cancers. The hyper-activation of β-catenin contributes to many malignant features of cancer cells. Recent clinical and basic science studies have repeatedly pointed out that the β-catenin signaling drives cancer cells to escape immune surveillance and suppresses anti-tumor immunity. A β-catenin inhibitor can short circuit this process generating a more robust immune response to tumors.
Dr. Haitao (Mark) Ji, currently an Associate Member at Moffitt Cancer Center, developed a novel small-molecule technology while at the University of Utah Research Center, to disrupt alpha-helix-mediated protein–protein interactions. Using this technology, he and his co-workers produced potent and selective small-molecule inhibitors for specific β-catenin interactions.
Dr. Ji was quoted as saying: “β-catenin is a highly relevant target for cancer treatment. I have been fortunate to work with a group of talented individuals while at the University of Utah, to tackle this important problem by developing new drug design technology. Our goal is to bring a small-molecule β-catenin/BCL9 inhibitor to the clinic and contribute to the fight against cancer.”
Dr. Darrell Irvine, Professor at MIT, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research Investigator remarked, “Recent studies suggest an important role for β-catenin in determining whether tumors are immunologically “hot” or “cold”: Beta catenin expression in melanoma has been shown to lead to a blockade in recruitment of dendritic cells to tumors, and subsequently, lack of T cell infiltration. Thus this pathway may represent an important key to enhancing the efficacy of immunotherapies in general.”
Dr. Paul Rennert, a highly respected oncology consultant and a member of Venn Therapeutics scientific advisory board further added, “Inhibition of β-catenin will give us an important tool to directly attack tumor cells while overcoming resistance to immune checkpoint therapy.”
“We are excited to advance this novel small molecule towards the clinic. This is an important acquisition for us, as the asset has the safety and selectivity profile that we are looking for in a drug. It deepens our pipeline of early stage, innovative cancer therapies. This is a perfect complement to our STING agonist, which targets another critical pathway that promotes elimination of cancer in animal studies.” said Sam Shrivastava, Venn Therapeutics’ chairman and chief executive officer.
Venn Therapeutics recently joined the University of South Florida’s Tampa Bay Technology Incubator (TBTI), where the company will utilize TBTI laboratories and facilities to perform essential R&D functions. USF’s TBTI supports both USF spinout companies and community startups through their early stage commercialization by offering programs, services and high-tech facilities to enrich the skills and ability of entrepreneurs to grow and develop their companies.
For more information about Venn Therapeutics, please visit: http://venntherapeutics.com/home.html