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San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: MEI Pharma, Turning Point, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

It was a relatively quiet week in the San Diego life sciences community, but local companies and organizations continue working away. Here’s a look at some recent developments, including companies moving their lead drug candidates into Phase 2 trials, new R&D partnerships, and a reminder to nominate your favorite young’un for a Biocom Catalyst award.

—MEI Pharma, a late-stage cancer drug developer, presented updated data from a Phase 1b study of its lead drug candidate, ME-401, which is designed to inhibit a molecular pathway called PI3K delta. The company said it recorded an 83 percent response rate among the 71 patients it evaluated, who have follicular lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or small lymphocytic lymphoma that has relapsed or does not respond to treatment.The response rate was 100 percent in all patients with the latter two forms of B-cell malignancies. The response rate across all patient groups was 75 percent to 100 percent, according to MEI (NASDAQ: MEIP). The study tested MEI-401 by itself and in combination with the cancer drugs rituximab or zanubrutinib.

Intermittent dosing appeared to demonstrate comparable response rates but reduce the drug’s toxicity compared to continuous dosing, the company also reported. Now MEI is starting a Phase 2 study of the drug in patients who have follicular lymphoma and have failed at least two prior systemic therapies including chemotherapy and an anti-CD20 antibody. If successful, this study is intended to support an FDA application for accelerated approval.

—Turning Point Therapeutics says it has kicked off Phase 2 testing of its lead drug candidate, repotrectinib, in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer and advanced solid tumors with certain genetic mutations. The targeted cancer therapy company, which is developing drugs designed to block certain kinases—a family of hundreds of enzymes that can drive the activity of cancer cells—recently raised $191.5 million in its April IPO.

Turning Point (NASDAQ: TPTX) says the trial is slated to including about 310 patients and take place across 100 sites. Interim data are anticipated in the second half of 2020. It will enroll patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer with ROS1 mutations and patients with other advanced solid tumors with that and other mutations.

—OncoSec Medical, which is based in New Jersey but has its research and development labs in San Diego, said Thursday it would work with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Marasco Laboratory, a laboratory at the research institution, to develop CAR T-cell therapies for solid tumor cancers. To date, such therapies—made from a patient’s own living immune cells—have only been successfully developed for blood cancers.

OncoSec (NASDAQ: ONCS), which is also testing its immunotherapy candidate, called Tavo, says it will focus its efforts first on developing a treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, referred to as such because of the absence of the three types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth. Under the deal, OncoSec gets an exclusive option to license the CAR-T products and associated IP that results from the research collaboration. The company says it plans to begin clinical trials with the CAR T-cell in 2020, by itself and in combination with Tavo, which is delivered using electrical pulses to encourage uptake by the targeted cells.

—Progenity, a maker of genetic health tests, said Tuesday that it had inked a research and development initiative with NYU Winthrop Hospital to develop test to predict preterm births, a leading cause of newborn deaths.

The San Diego-based company, which makes tests related to reproductive health and oncology, says such a test could improve the management of such pregnancies. As part of the collaboration with the hospital, which is the Long Island affiliate of NYU Langone Health, Progenity is licensing patents held by NYU Winthrop in the US and Europe related to a biomarker for predicting preterm births. Together the organizations will look to identify additional preterm birth markers, the company said.

—Biocom is accepting nominations for its fourth annual Life Science Catalyst Awards program, which recognizes up-and-comers in life science. Nominees must be younger than 40. The San Diego-based group plans to recognize academics, entrepreneurs, investors, corporate leaders, and business advisers in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area—the latter for the first time. Each region will have its own nomination and judging process. The San Diego program is being presented in conjunction with the San Diego Venture Group. Nominations are due July 31.

—CureMatch, a digital health startup whose Decision Support System guides oncologists in selecting cancer drugs for patients based on their molecular tumor profile, has hired two new executives. Katie Breitenbach joins as chief financial officer; Viktor Novy, as chief technical officer. (Novy was most recently director of information technology at Human Longevity, another San Diego startup.) The company’s tech was recently licensed by French pharma Servier.

—Phastar, a global contract research organization based in London, announced it would open a San Diego site to be its operational hub for the West Coast starting in 2020. The company has already begun recruiting for the new offices. Phastar also said it is opening a new location in Tokyo to be a hub for its customers in Japan. The company currently has offices in the US, UK, Australia, Germany, and Kenya. San Diego is a hotspot for CROs: The region had more than 350 such labs in 2015, according to a San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. report.