AstraZeneca hitches cancer drug hopes to CytImmune's nano-gold standard

By John Carroll and Michael Gibney

One of AstraZeneca's ($AZN) cancer compounds will be hitching a ride with CytImmune's gold nanoparticle delivery vehicle in a collaboration aimed at mounting a new combination drug assault on a number of tumor types.

The pharma giant plans to take a compound in its pipeline and combine it with the small biotech's CYT-6091 platform--a gold nanoparticle bound to the highly toxic TNF, or tumor necrosis factor alpha, along with ethylene glycol to escape detection by the immune system.

They're relying on a popular strategy in oncology R&D. CytImmune has already seen the tiny gold nanoparticles swarm on tumors in early-stage research, allowing investigators to target cancer cells without raising fears of exposing healthy tissue to toxic payloads. This particular program, investigators say, has the potential to emerge as a new class of medicine for a broad range of cancers. And there's plenty of potential for more combination therapies ahead.

AstraZeneca, which has been scrambling over the past year to find new technologies to fill one of the industry's weakest pipelines, believes that Rockville, MD-based CytImmune could provide one of the keys it needs for a successful oncology effort. TNF should be effective in killing tumor blood vessels, starving the tumors while AstraZeneca's unnamed compound delivers a second punch.

"If we can reduce the tumors where they are, we can significantly reduce or completely eliminate the need for surgeries, which would reduce time in hospitals. I would posit that this would reduce health care costs," CytImmune's chief executive, Lawrence Tamarkin, told The Boston Globe. CytImmune was named a Fierce 15 company in 2008.

"By coupling our investigational cancer therapy to CytImmune's promising nanoparticle platform, we hope to improve the ability of our compound now formulated as a new multi-functional nanomedicine to kill cancer cells and therefore shrink tumors with better safety," said AstraZeneca's Susan Galbraith in a prepared statement.

- here's the press release
- read the story from The Boston Globe (sub. req.)

Special Report: CytImmune Sciences - 2008 Fierce 15