amcure GmbH has identified a new compound with a new efficacy profile against pancreatic cancer. Animal experiments have shown promising results: the drug candidate successfully prevents tumour growth and destroys existing metastases. The company, which was spun out from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in 2011, is now working on its first financing round and is looking for new investors. At the same time it is carefully planning its future with the aim of developing the new angiogenesis inhibitor in a structured and precise way.
Pancreatic cancer is an insidious type of cancer. Early pancreatic cancer often has no symptoms for many years, which is why it is frequently only diagnosed at a very late stage when the primary tumour has already formed metastases. “In America, pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cancer and in Europe the fifth most common,” said Dr. Matthias Klaften, CEO of amcure GmbH, which is located on the North campus of KIT. “No effective therapy is yet available and the five-year survival rate is only between three and five percent; all other patients die within this period.”
Dr. Alexandra Matzke, CSO of amcure, laid the foundation stone of amcure GmbH with her doctoral thesis. The thesis was based on the long-term research carried out by Dr. Véronique Orian-Rousseau from the Institute of Toxicology and Genetics at KIT. Orian-Rousseau is specifically focused on the role of the receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) c-Met and VEGFR-2 in tumour development and has discovered that the co-receptor CD44v6 plays a key role in the activation of RTKs and subsequent signalling. Matzke developed a strategy that inhibits this co-receptor and the RTKs it activates. “As cancer researchers, we wanted to find out whether it was possible to deactivate this co-receptor using short peptide sequences, which causes the tumour to starve,” recalls the 36-year-old biologist.
The researchers found that one of these peptides had an excellent effect. “When we got the first data back, we were pretty euphoric as such clear results are not an everyday occurrence.” And then the researchers’ real work began: they had to verify the data. Throughout this period, the KIT’s Innovation Management department provided the young researcher with financial support and advice. The research would also not have been possible without financial injections from the Helmholtz Association and the EXIST programme run by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. In December 2011, the time had come: three scientists and a staff member of the KIT’s Innovation Management department founded amcure GmbH whose name is derived from the words “angiogenesis”, “metastasis” and “cure”.
The promising molecule, AM001, consists of a linear chain of five amino acids. This peptide binds to the co-receptor CD44v6, thereby specifically inhibiting angiogenesis, i.e. the growth of the new blood vessels that the tumour requires for growth and the formation of metastases. The researchers also found in animal experiments that the newly discovered compound led to the regression of malignant cells. “All classical angiogenesis inhibitors that are already on the market bind to RTK or prevent the binding of the ligand to the receptor. Most drugs prevent RTK signalling either unselectively or inhibit several signalling pathways simultaneously, thereby acting like broadband inhibitors,” explained Matzke. “However, AM001 only targets a few signalling pathways. In addition, large quantities of the target molecule CD44v6 are almost exclusively found on tumour cells. We therefore expect this to lead to a much more selective effect.” AM001 has further advantages over previous approaches: “Our peptide is small and can thus reach its target relatively quickly. In contrast to antibodies, it binds more specifically and is degraded more rapidly, which is why we expect it to be better tolerated by patients,” commented Matzke, justifiably proud of the peptide’s advantages. And last but not least, the researchers expect production costs to be much lower than the production costs associated with antibodies.
As the co-receptor is also found on the cell surface of other tumours, the company’s proprietary compound may potentially also be effective in the treatment of breast, colon and head and neck tumours. “Unfortunately at present we do not have the capacity to focus on all these tumours, but we will certainly expand our portfolio in the medium term,” Klaften said referring to the company management’s ideal scenario of transferring the drug candidate to the pharmaceutical industry once clinical phase II trials have been concluded. These trials will provide the team with reliable patient data and considerably reduce the risk of failure.
amcure was twice able to convince the jury of the 2012 CyberOne Hightech Award, one of the awards sponsored by Baden-Württemberg: Connected (bwcon): it was awarded second prize for best business plan and a special prize awarded by the state of Baden-Württemberg for the best commercialization of research. “These prizes are important milestones for us. They show that our data and our concept are not just understood by experts, but also by the broader public. We are now concentrating on trying to convince further investors about our concept,” said the company’s CEO.
Further information:amcure GmbHDr. Matthias KlaftenHermann-von-Helmholtz-Platz 176344 Eggenstein-LeopoldshafenE-mail: matthias.klaften(at)amcure.com