Cancer-focused Ensysce Biosciences adds opioid prodrug to its pipeline via merger

A depiction of a single-walled carbon nanotube--Courtesy of Ensysce

Houston's Ensysce Biosciences has merged with Palo Alto, CA's Signature Therapeutics, creating a drug delivery specialist with small and large molecule candidates in the chronic pain and oncology arenas. To be based in San Diego, the combined company will retain the name Ensysce Biosciences.

Ensysce Biosciences originally focused solely on the deployment of single-walled carbon nanotubes made of graphene for the delivery of large molecules. Consisting of a sheet of carbon that is only one atom thick, graphene is considered a truly two-dimensional material that has lots of potential medical applications.

With a diameter around 1 nanometer, Ensysce says the nanotubes can carry drugs across cell membranes and evade endosomal capture within the cell. According to the company website, the nanotube-based platform has shown an ability to transfect circulating T cells following intravenous administration, at least in animals.

Candidates carrying products aimed at various genes, such as KRAS, remain in the preclinical stage.

Meanwhile, Signature Therapeutics is developing a Phase I extended-release, abuse-resistant formulation of the pain reliever hydromorphone. Several other opioid candidates are in the preclinical phase.

Signature says its Bio-MD prodrug technology provides a chemical barrier to opioid abuse. As is the case with other prodrugs, the active ingredient (in this case the opioid) is designed to remain inert until it is metabolized within the body. That means abusive manipulation and nonoral administration like injection, snorting or smoking of the candidate will not result in a euphoric "high," according to the company website.

"This merger provides the opportunity to tackle some of the most challenging delivery problems in the pain and oncology fields," said Dr. Lynn Kirkpatrick, the newly combined company's CEO, in a statement. "We now have the ability to provide pain medicine that eliminates the potential for abuse with our Bio-MD oral prodrug technology and our overdose resistant MPAR products. The near term clinical trials for the pain products will complement our SWCNT (single-walled carbon nanotubes) platform that has demonstrated ability to transfect circulating T-cells following intravenous administration. An IV product could transform manufacturing procedures of the highly promising immunotherapy and gene editing technologies. I am delighted to be playing a role in the development of these transformative technologies."

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