Inspyr Seeks Clinical Partner for Cash After New Name, Exec Hires

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in at least $25 million through one or more fundings, according to a regulatory filing.

Inspyr, which changed its name from GenSpera last week, took a step yesterday aimed at boosting its scientific profile by hiring Ronald Shazer as its new chief medical officer. Shazer was most recently the chief medical officer at Tracon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TCON, a San Diego biotech working on treatments for cancer, age-related macular degeneration, and fibrotic diseases. The company raised $36 million in an initial public offering in January 2015. And before that, he led clinical oncology research at Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Arena Pharmaceuticals.

In his early work with Shazer, Lowe says the two have discussed possibly using G-202 as a combination therapy with Nexavar (sorafenib) in liver cancer. G-202, which is based in a toxin found in a weed called Thapsia Garganica, targets an enzyme found in solid tumors but not in other cells, potentially letting it avoid the side effects of chemotherapy, the company says.

“In these therapeutic areas, one size rarely fits all,” Lowe says. “Honestly, I think that’s where our market opportunity is going to be, as a possible adjunctive therapy to a Nexavar, or as a combo therapy as well.”

Lowe came to Inspyr at first as an advisor. A partner at advisory firm FLG Partners, which describes itself as a “CFO-as-a-service” firm, Lowe has experience in life sciences. He was the CFO of Asthmatx, a Sunnyvale, CA-based medical device company bought by Boston Scientific, and of Peninsula Pharmaceuticals before that, which sold to Johnson & Johnson.

Lowe joined to advise the company on financial matters, specifically how to raise new funding. Lowe worked directly with Dionne until the day before the co-founder and former CEO left. He says he hasn’t talked to Dionne since he departed.

“I can’t say I know 100 percent,” Lowe says about Dionne’s reason for leaving. “The feedback I’ve gotten is that Craig is rooting for us to get the company moving in the right direction.”

Reached by phone, Dionne declined to comment about his departure from Inspyr. Since leaving, he has started a new business, CDionne Inc., which he is using to perform consulting work as he looks for a new technology to immerse himself in. That could range from something in the preclinical stage to a FDA-approved product, Dionne said, declining to comment further.

Dionne still has a stake in Inspyr, and a large one: He owns 12.5 percent of the company’s stock.

Lowe says he knew he had to do something to change the perception of the company about three months ago, before he was officially hired as CEO. He is on a life science research firm’s e-mail list, and the firm coincidentally sent out a report on the worldwide market for hepatocellular carcinoma, the liver cancer Inspyr wants to run its Phase 3 study on. Even though the report listed drug candidates from “all corners of the globe,” Lowe says, G-202 was not one of them.

“That’s how far off the radar this has fallen,” Lowe says he thought at the time. “That really calibrated me on the challenge.”

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