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Home » Oncology » Accelerating development of critical cancer drugs

Professor Sir Christopher Evans

Chairman and Co-Founder, Ellipses Pharma

Professor Tobias Arkenau

Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer, Ellipses Pharma

Clinical trials of novel therapies for leukaemia, breast and lung cancer are showing promising signs in treating these cancers in patients today.

A number of cancer therapies in development are showing promising results in clinical trials and emerging as potential alternatives when existing treatments falter or fail.

Ellipses Pharma, a precision drug development company focused on oncology and aiming to accelerate the development of new cancer medicines and treatments, is developing next-generation targeted therapies for patients with leukaemia, breast and lung cancer.

Rigorous testing and assessment in global clinical trials

Chairman and Co-Founder Prof Sir Chris Evans OBE explains how the company acquires promising new drugs from other organisations before they go into human testing and then develops them into potential new treatments in clinical trials so that patients have more options on their cancer journey.

“The drugs being developed at Ellipses are next-generation therapies to effectively target genetic abnormalities found in certain tumours. Each potential medicine undergoes rigorous testing and assessment in specialist cancer centres around the world,” he says.

Next-generation selective RET inhibitor for lung and other cancers

One of the new drugs for lung and other cancers targets a dysfunctional protein called RET (rearranged during transfection). Prof Tobias Arkenau, Chief Medical Officer and Global Head of Drug Development, outlines how the drug inhibits the protein, stops the uncontrolled division of the cells and destroys cells that are part of a tumour. “By inhibiting the RET protein that is driving the cancer’s growth, it is stopping the cancer from growing,” he says.

The drug is a next-generation selective RET inhibitor and has completed a phase 1 trial in patients with RET positive cancers, ascertaining what the most effective doses look like, and is now entering phase 2 studies having acquired orphan drug and fast-track designation in the US, which should accelerate the process towards wider patient use.

Prof Arkenau says it is showing encouraging results in patients who have become resistant to first-generation RET inhibitors or whose cancer has spread from the lungs to the brain and other organs.

By inhibiting the RET protein that is
driving the cancer’s growth, it is
stopping the cancer from growing.

Prof Tobias Arkenau

New drug for patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer

In the area of advanced breast cancer that has returned or progressed after initial treatment and moved outside of the breast, Prof Arkenau believes there remains a ‘high unmet need’ for specific patient groups.

The company is currently enrolling breast cancer in patients who have progressed on current hormonal therapies into their new selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM) trial that has returned promising results in patients whose cancer expresses both oestrogen and androgen receptors.

“This works by ‘fuelling’ the androgen receptors, almost starving the cancer of its oestrogen signalling and subsequently leading to cancer cell death,” he adds. “We expect to combine this new SARM with existing therapies to see even better responses in patients and for longer,” continues Prof Arkenau. The drug is now going into combination studies in the US, Europe and the UK.

Leukaemia drug for patients not responding to current treatment

A third drug under development is for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), where leukaemia cells growing in the bone marrow replace healthy red and white blood cells and subsequently result in bone marrow failure.

“AML is a very complicated blood cancer,” says Prof Arkenau. “Often driven by multiple genetic abnormalities.” He notes that leukaemic cells can become resistant to standard therapies even after stem cell therapy, and relapse is common. The drug being trialled is a dual inhibitor targeting a specific set of proteins that are known to be involved in cancer resistance and progression.

Patients at the relapsed-refractory stage, where standard treatment has consistently failed, have been participating in a phase 1 trial. The results were very encouraging which allows progression of the study to combine Ellipses’s drug with other approved therapies in a phase 2 trial.

It marks yet another stage of the company’s ongoing development of drugs aiming to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

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