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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Onchilles Pharma Shares Promising Preclinical Data

BIOTECH: New Mechanism Discovered Could Treat Wide Range of Cancers

SAN DIEGO – A treatment for cancer – all cancer, not just a specific tumor type – has been an elusive goal of pharmaceutical research since it began in the 1700s.

Early this month, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) held its annual meeting, this year at the San Diego Convention Center, and a San Diego-based biotech company presented preclinical data that shows promise to be such a treatment – one that works across many cancer types to kill tumor cells but leave healthy cells alone.

Court Turner
Co-founder & Executive Chair
Onchilles Pharma

“We’re stumbling upon more and more data that this approach to treating cancer can be much more widespread than most other approaches,” said Court Turner, Co-founder and Executive Chair of Onchilles Pharma, the private biotech that is developing the cancer therapeutics which leverage a novel innate immune mechanism of action for potent and selective cancer killing.

‘Serendipitous Observation’ Leads to Discovery

In Onchilles’ poster and oral presentations at AACR, Turner and fellow Co-founder Lev Becker, Ph.D. explained the extraordinary results of the treatment that Becker said he discovered through “serendipitous observation.”

“We were studying what regulates metastasis in humans and what we found is an elevation in a specific immune cell called a neutrophil that we observed in patients that had a primary tumor but not yet metastasis,” he said.

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Becker then isolated those cells and co-cultured them with ovarian cancer cells.

Lev Becker, Ph.D.
Co-founder & Board Member
Onchilles Pharma

“In two hours, the cancer cells were all dead,” he said, adding that he then tested the therapeutic of several different ovarian cancers, “and it worked across all of them.”
The researchers then tried the molecule on other types of cancer.

“We kept going and going and now we have 60 different cancer types spanning 13 different anatomical locations and we’ve yet to find a cancer we can’t kill with this approach,” Becker said, adding that in further research he and his team also “worked out mechanisms to explain how and why this works.”

The body’s innate immune system, unlike adaptive immune system, has evolved over millennia to be nonspecific, allowing it to kill off harmful parasites, bacteria, viruses, he explained. “The genetic variability of that makes the genetic variability of cancer look meaningless.”

What the Onchilles researchers believe they’ve found is a molecule from that system that seems to have the same kind of variability, which could set it apart from other treatments for cancer that are more personalized drugs designed to attack specific mutations.

“And what we found is something that appears to supersede that, at least in mice,” Becker said.

The preclinical research study took two approaches. One involved taking cancer cells from patients and quickly exposing them to the molecule in a petri dish. The other was to inject the molecule into mice avatars carrying human cancer tumors.

In both experiments, the molecule quickly killed cancer cells and had no effect on healthy cells.

Story of a Fast-Moving Biotech

“Onchilles’ story is about killing cancer cells and not killing-non-cancer cells,” Turner said, adding that because on the unique mechanism of action of the molecule, the company believes that the Phase 1 clinical trial, expected to begin later this year, will be able to show reductions in tumor size in first study.

“In the first 24 patients we will know whether the drug works in humans,” he said. “If we can duplicate what we’ve seen preclinically in very early studies in Phase 1, it opens up many, many tumor types for us to treat.”

Onchilles is currently fundraising its next round, with a “high level of interest” from investors, Turner said. Onchilles’ last publicized funding round was a $7 million Series A in 2021 from LYZZ Capital that included a $500,000 investment from University of Chicago’s Startup Investment Fund.

The funds raised in this next round will take the company through Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials that Onchilles hopes to be completed in 2027. That target date will depend on how much preclinical data translates to the in-patient trials, which should be known “very quickly,” Turner said, adding that the Onchilles has always moved fast – from Becker’s paper on the new mechanism published in 2021 to already this year it going into patients.

“Drug discovery is a long process, but this is pretty quick,” Turner said.

Onchilles Pharma, Inc.
CEO: Court Turner
HEADQUARTERS: Alexandria GradLabs, San Diego
BUSINESS: oncology biotech
FUNDING: Just over $10 million (Series A plus add-ons)
EMPLOYEES: 9 full time plus consultants
NOTABLE: Onchilles Pharma’s name is a mash up of oncology and Achilles because the company’s founders believe they have found cancer’s Achilles Heel.


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