San Diego’s Polaris Moves to Late-Stage Test of Drug for Liver Cancer and Other “Arginine-Dependant” Tumors

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arginine to survive and grow.

So liver tumors get arginine from the bloodstream (arginine also is metabolized from food). As silver bullets go, ADI-PEG 20 is ideal because it rapidly breaks down arginine, depriving tumor cells of their external supply of this essential nutrient without affecting nearby healthy cells (which can make their own arginine). ADI-PEG 20 has shown a similar effect on metastatic melanomas—one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer—and on other, so-called arginine-dependant cancers, including certain types of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and sarcoma.

Wu told me he first heard about ADI-PEG 20 in 2002, about six months after he had left the San Diego-based operations of Pfizer’s Agouron Pharmaceuticals, where he had worked on nelfinavir mesylate (Viracept), the company’s breakthrough protease inhibitor for treating HIV. (Warner-Lambert had acquired Agouron in 1999 and Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert in 2000.)

“I was a biochemist lab rat, and I just wanted to be left alone,” Wu says. “I was at Agouron for 14 years and left without knowing what to do.”

Wu says he first read about ADI-PEG 20 in work published by Steven A. Curley, who specializes in gastrointestinal tumor surgery at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. That work led him to Mike A. Clark, a biology professor at the University of Kentucky and the founder and CEO of Kentucky’s Phoenix Pharmacologics.

In the meantime, Wu’s search for a new career had led him in 2002 to start DesigneRx Pharmaceuticals, the first in a tangle of affiliated companies. He founded DesigneRx with the idea of operating a pilot facility in Vacaville, CA, that would use good clinical manufacturing practices to make biologics. He founded TDW Pharmaceuticals in Taiwan the following year to develop treatments for cancer and gout, and eventually made DesigneRx a TDW subidiary.

Wu says he initially in-licensed ADI-PEG 20 at DesigneRx as part of his plan to … Next Page »

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