Avacta to start human cancer drug trials next year

Avacta's chief executive Dr Alastair Smith
Avacta's chief executive Dr Alastair Smith
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Drug developer Avacta, which is working on cures for lung, breast, gastric and bowel cancer, has announced plans to start its first human clinical studies in late 2020.

The Wetherby-based firm hopes to come up with a possible cure for these cancers within the next 10 years.

Avacta's chief executive Dr Alastair Smith said: "We will focus initially in that Phase One trial, which is a dose escalation trial, to find the correct dosing and we will be doing that in gastric cancer.

"Long term it will be expanded to other cancers, but the initial focus is just on gastric cancer."

Dr Smith said the time needed for the trials will depend on how long it takes to find patients with gastric cancer.

"The trials will probably take six months. Then it will be expanded out into more patients with the same indications and that will take another six months beyond that."

Avacta recently signed its first significant pharmaceutical licensing deal with LG Chem Life Sciences, which could be worth £230m in upfront payments and near-term and long-term milestones.

Dr Smith said his firm and LG Chem will work together on the development of Affimer (the firm's high-tech alternative to antibodies) therapeutics in cancer and inflammatory disorders.

He described the deal with LG Chem as very significant.

"It is a proper, fully funded pharmaceutical licensing deal with a world class, well established pharma company with products on the market.

"They have the capability to take a drug through development and all the way through to market."

Avacta is hopeful that it will sign more licensing deals over the coming months and years.

Antibodies help fight vicious viruses or bacteria in the body by binding to them and targeting them for destruction. The problem with current cancer therapies such as chemotherapy is that they kill off all the cells in their path, not just the cancer cells.

In contrast, Affimers zone in on the cancer cells and bypass the body's healthy cells.

Dr Smith said the Affimer platform addresses markets worth in excess of $100bn where alternatives to antibodies are gaining significant traction.

He was speaking as Avacta announced interim results for the six months to January 31.

The LG Chem deal included an upfront payment of nearly £2m, near-term milestone payments of up to a further £4.2m plus payment of Avacta’s research costs to develop Affimer therapeutics for oncology and the treatment of inflammatory diseases.

In December, the group appointed Dr Jose Saro as chief medical officer to lead the pre-clinical and clinical development of the Affimer therapeutic platform. Dr Saro joined Avacta from Roche.

Half year revenues slipped from £1.5m to £1m due to the absence of research services revenue from the Moderna collaboration as Avacta has delivered on its part of the deal. LG Chem funded research services work started in February and will compensate for this in the second half figures.

The operating loss rose to £5.9m, with research and development costs increasing to £2.4m. The increased R&D costs associated with the accelerating drug development programmes led to a reported loss of £5.2m.

Analyst Barney Gray at Turner Pope said: "Avacta’s interim results demonstrate that the company is making solid progress with its in-house therapeutic programmes and first-in-man clinical data for its Affimer therapeutic platform is expected in late 2020.

"This is underpinned by the company’s recent commercial agreements with LG Chem Life Sciences and Tufts University Medical School, among several others, which have the potential to deliver long term revenue growth to the company."