Houston Biotech DNAtrix Partners With Merck on Brain Cancer Treatment

Xconomy Texas — 

Houston-based DNAtrix is using a relatively quotidian tool to treat brain cancer: the common cold virus. And today the biotech says it has enlisted some big firepower to help it develop its drug candidate, the pharmaceutical giant Merck. The two companies will collaborate in phase II clinical trials on a therapy to treat glioblastoma, an especially deadly cancer for which there is no cure.

DNAtrix’s drug, DNX-2401, will be paired with pembrolizumab (Keytruda), one of the new “checkpoint inhibitor” drugs that are currently the source of much excitement in the anti-cancer-drug industry. The drugs will be part of a clinical study of fewer than 50 patients with glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer and for which there is no cure.

Frank Tufaro, DNAtrix’s CEO, says the trials will be conducted in several sites across the country following about a six-month period to recruit patients. “We’re allowing up to two years to get all the data in,” he says.

DNAtrix was founded in 2005, and raised $5 million in 2009 and $20 million in 2014 in Series A and B rounds, respectively, from investors such as Houston-based Mercury Fund and Morningside.

In phase 1 clinical trials of its drug that started in 2009, Tufaro said that, for example, three patients who were treated at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, saw their tumors completely disappear. “We saw an improvement in overall survival,” he adds. “We hope to cure everyone but, the initial diagnosis is so bad, that we’re looking for improvement in overall survival right now.”