Atterocor Begins Phase 1 Trial for Adrenal Cancer Drug

The Ann Arbor, MI-based biotech startup Atterocor announced last week that it has initiated a Phase 1 clinical trial of ATR-101, a novel drug candidate to treat adrenal cancer. In pre-clinical studies, ATR-101 has shown selective effects on adrenal cortex cells, says Atterocor co-founder and CEO Julia Owens.

ATR-101 has also received orphan drug designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.

“The approved treatment options for adrenocortical carcinoma are limited, and we believe our compound offers a better option,” Owens says.

It’s an exciting time for Atterocor, Owens says, made possible by a $16 million Series A round in 2012 that was led by Frazier, based in Seattle and Menlo Park, CA, and 5am Ventures, based in Waltham, MA, and Menlo Park.

Owens says she doesn’t think Atterocor “could have happened” outside of Michigan. She points out that adrenal cancer is such a rare disease that many oncologists go their entire career without ever seeing it in a patient. “The Michigan connection began when [former University of Michigan football coach] Bo Schembechler’s wife, Millie, died of adrenal cancer,” Owens explains.

Schembechler went on to endow the Multidisciplinary Endocrine Oncology Clinic at U-M’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the world’s few interdisciplinary clinics for thyroid and adrenal cancer patients. Atterocor’s Phase 1 trial is being conducted at the Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor and the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, and expects to enroll 21 patients.

“The [U-M] center sees 200 adrenal cancer patients a year,” Owens says. “Considering that there are only about 1,000 in the country, they see a higher percentage of adrenal cancer patients than anywhere else.”

Atterocor’s Phase 1 trial is designed to establish the safety and tolerability of ATR-101 in patients with advanced adrenal cancer whose disease has progressed beyond standard therapy. Owens says Atterocor expects to have data from the first-in-human study by the end of 2014.

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