Promising future for r84

Dr. Martin Welschof is a co-founder and Managing Director of Affitech A/S. Affitech laboratories are in the Oslo Research Park. (Photo courtesy of Affitech)

Affitech co-founder and managing director Dr. Martin Welschof. Affitech laboratories are in the Oslo Research Park. (Photo courtesy of Affitech)

Affitech tests exciting new anti-cancer drug candidate

John Erik Stacy, 22 Feb 2011

Affitech has an exciting anti-cancer drug candidate, now known simply as r84, shown to fight cancer growth in animal trials. Like Avastin (Genentech), Herceptin (Roche), Erbitux (Merck) and other new anticancer drugs, r84 is a monoclonal antibody. This type of drug continues to be an important part of recent advances in cancer treatment. Antibody based drugs now represent a large fraction – pushing $50 bn – of the total pharmaceutical market.

Dr. Martin Welschof, Managing director of Affitech A/S, answered questions about the company, r84 and other products in their pipeline:

What types of cancer might be treated using r84? So far we have seen that r84 works on breast, lung and pancreatic cancers transplanted into mice. Dr. Rolf Brekken and his team at the University of Texas performed these tests.

Is it correct to say that r84 slows cancer by blocking the formation of blood vessels in the tumor? Yes, For a tumor to grow it needs to be able to form its own blood vessels. Affitech’s r84 is similar to the established anti‐cancer antibody drug Avastin (Genentech) in that it interferes with a protein known to stimulate blood vessel formation (the name of this protein is Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor or VEGF for short).

As I understand it, r84 is more specific than Avastin. Why is that important? We know that r84 interacts precisely with VEGF to block its interaction with another molecule (a receptor called VEGFR2). Avastin is less discriminating and blocks binding of the VEGF molecule to both of its receptors (VEGFR1 and 2). Therefore we believe that there is the potential for a better safety profile of r84. So far we have shown that r84 is at least as efficient as Avastin and does not induce toxicity in animal models.

There are some Russian names on the board of Affitech now, including Viktor Kharitonin. Affitech signed a € 23 million ($ 31 m) agreement with NauchTekhStroy Plus (NTS Plus) in April 2010. At the same time, Trans Nova Investment became a majority stockholder in Affitech (53%) by purchasing shares in the amount of € 20 million ($ 27 m). Trans Nova is an investment company operating on his behalf of Mr. Kharitonin, and he is also the Chairman of Pharmstandard (LON:PHST), Russia’s largest domestic pharmaceutical company, which owns 50% of the biotech company NTS Plus. Aleksandr Shuster is co-owner of Trans Nova and NTS Plus and is the Chairman of the Board for Affitech. Shuster has deep experience in pharmaceutical development and was involved in developing drugs that were later bought by Pharmstandard. He also founded the companies Masterpharm and Masterclone which primarily focus on new and biological drugs.

So, Pharmstandard acts as a natural bridge for Affitech into Russian markets? Pharmstandard was “Company of the year” in 2010 and has 20% of the Russian market in relation to other Russian companies. It is clearly a powerful actor in the region and our best marketing partner for Russia and the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. This represents a population of nearly 300 million people. We envision this market as a starting point, but plan to sell worldwide.

What sort of time frame for r84? We are soon to file clinical trial applications in Russia. Moving a drug through clinical trials is a process that takes years, but Russia offers a favorable environment for clinical trials with the potential to Fast-track under the Russian Pharma 2020 initiative. Advantages of trials in Russia include high quality at reasonable cost and standards to assure data acceptance from the FDA and EMEA. That is, we plan to bring our drug through the approval process and to market in Russia in fewer years than it would take to accomplish in the US. And we expect to be able to use the work done in Russia to help achieve FDA and EMEA approval.

What other products are in the Affitech pipeline? AT008 is a program which contains various antibodies being currently developed as a potential therapy for various cancers and autoimmune disorders. Those drug candidates target a cell-surface molecule called CCR4 (one of the many “G Protein Coupled Receptors”). AT008 is also being developed under the agreement with NTS Plus. We also have an ongoing relationship to develop products with Peregrine Pharmaceuticals (PPHM) as well as Roche.

Disclaimer: The author has a small holding in PPHM and once worked for Affitech.

This article was originally published in the Feb. 18, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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