A new player enters the KRAS game with Fortress; Gilead picks up once-failed cancer drug from Mologen’s fire sale

→ A new player is entering the KRAS race.

The incubator Fortress Biotech has licensed a treatment developed at Columbia University by Jeffrey Rothman and Gary Schwartz and spun into a new company called Oncogenuity. The company says it has plans to broadly go after genetically driven cancers, but the lead drug is in KRAS, the long-studied oncogene that a couple of companies have just recently gained traction in experimentally treating in the clinic.

Unlike the two major KRAS players, Mirati and Amgen, Oncogenuity will not try to inhibit the protein that KRAS codes for. Instead, it will use antisense technology, creating a mirror image of the RNA that transcribes the KRAS gene. That artificial sequence will bind to the RNA and silence it, preventing it from creating the cancer-causing protein.

Oncogenuity, though, is hardly invented the idea of targeting the transcriptional machinery for KRAS, an oncogene that has evaded researchers because the protein it codes for lacks an easy groove in which you can slip a small molecule inhibitor. Ionis developed an antisense therapy and licensed it to AstraZeneca before it was abandoned. Moderna is developing mRNA cancer vaccines.

→ Gilead has come in as a buyer in German cancer biotech Mologen’s liquidation process, taking two drugs off its hands. The lead drug, lefitolimod, is a TLR9 agonist that failed a Phase III cancer trial but was also being investigated for HIV, while enandim is a family of synthetic TLR9 agonists. “The purchase price will probably enable a dividend for creditors in the insolvency but will not be sufficient to satisfy all insolvency claims in full,” the company noted.

→ China’s Innovent Biologics has declared another win for its Eli Lilly-partnered PD-1 drug, Tyvyt. The checkpoint inhibitor hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival among patients with first-line advanced or metastatic squamous non-small cell lung cancer when paired with Gemzar and platinum chemotherapy.

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