Race challenges big pharma mindset

30/08/2017 - 12:57

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Perth-based Race Oncology has achieved early success in its strategy of commercialising drugs overlooked by big pharmaceutical companies.

Peter Molloy (left) and chairman William Garner founded Race Oncology in 2016 to commercialise Bisantrene. Photo: Attila Csaszar

For many cancer sufferers, the side effects of traditional chemotherapy treatments can compound an already difficult situation.

Perth-based Race Oncology is hoping Bisantrene, which it believes to be a ‘cleaner chemotherapy’, will deliver on its potential to treat a range of cancers.

Bisantrene was developed in the 1980s by a US pharmaceutical company, but fell between the cracks at pharmaceutical multinationals, after a series of mergers, largely for financial reasons.

Race Oncology chairman William Garner discovered the drug when reading through old medical literature and recognised its potential, giving rise to the birth of the company.

In 2016, to secure the intellectual property, Race Oncology paid $3 million in shares (plus $2 million in cash after further trials) for the patent rights to Bisantrene.

Dr Garner said Bisantrene had undergone more than 45 clinical studies and had been examined by both the industry and the US government for nine years, with an estimated $100 million invested during this process.

Chief executive Peter Molloy, who has two decades’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry as a microbiologist and biochemist, said while Bisantrene was not seen as significantly profitable to big pharmaceuticals with large drug portfolios, it was a different story for smaller companies.

“We in a way are right sized to take advantage of a smaller opportunity,” Mr Molloy told Business News.

“For us, it doesn’t have to be a billion dollar drug to be interesting and to be something that we can create significant investor value with.”

Mr Molloy said Bisantrene held value because it lacked the cardiotoxicity present in most chemotherapy drugs, which could lead to heart failure.

Bisantrene has been shown to be effective against some cancers that have returned after patients have already received cardiotoxic treatments.

Given that rare and difficult-to-cure cancers are, as standard procedure, the first to be treated with new drugs, later-stage acute myeloid leukaemia has so far been the focus of Bisantrene.

In addition to the promising benefits of the drug, Mr Molloy said investor value in Race Oncology stemmed from the fact that Race Oncology took on previously developed projects, meaning it could bring the drugs to the market quickly.

“It’s a drug development company with early commercial milestones,” he said.

“The strategy is two-fold: first of all, we intend to complete the development via registration with the FDA.

“That will take several years because it will require a registration clinical study.

“But in parallel to that, we’re going to make the drug available on a compassionate-use basis in those countries where it’s legal to provide the drug to physicians and charge the patient for the use of the drug.”

Mr Molloy said the drug was to be launched on a compassionate basis in France, Italy, Turkey and South Korea at the end of the year.

To secure competitive protection, Mr Molloy said Race Oncology had two patents filed and currently pending, as well as seven years of exclusivity guaranteed once the drug received FDA approval.

The company’s recent decision to engage in a joint venture with Swiss-based TargImmune Therapeutics has given rise to the potential for extended patents and an opportunity for Bisantrene to treat more cancers.

TargImmune is a biotechnology firm focused on drug development using targeted immunotherapies, meaning its drugs target cancer cells without attacking healthy cells.

TargImmune senior consultant Linda Freidland told Business News the company believed there was great potential in the joint venture.

“In combination with a targeted immune therapy with a specific delivery system such as TargImmune, it (Bisantrene) may have much greater reach,” Dr Freidland said.

She said the drugs in combination could be used to treat cancers more prevalent than AML, such as lung and breast cancers.

Based in Perth, Dr Friedland recently joined Mr Molloy and Dr Garner on an investor roadshow.

The market has responded positively to the company update, with Race’s stock price doubling over the past month to more than 40 cents a share.

Race listed on the ASX in July last year after raising $4.3 million from investors, and raised a further $2.5 million through a share placement in July this year, with both deals priced at 20 cents a share.

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