Pharma

Ohio molecular imaging firm hopes to improve cancer detection

Molecular imaging company Enlyton Ltd. is looking for a $3 million investment to get its cancer-detection technology into clinical studies. The company believes its targeting agent, an antibody called ATA-1, is better than the industry standard at making cancerous tumors stand out in medical imaging scans.

Molecular imaging company Enlyton Ltd. is looking for a $3 million investment to get its cancer-detection technology into clinical studies.

The Columbus, Ohio, company believes its targeting agent, an antibody called ATA-1, is better than the industry standard at making cancerous tumors stand out in medical imaging scans.

If the company’s faith in its technology is well-placed, CEO Jeff Bergen’s projection of $1 billion in annual per-dose sales could someday come to fruition, making Enltyon an attractive acquisition target for diagnostics and imaging companies.

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But that’s a long way off. First, the company needs to test its antibody, a radiopharmaceutical that’s injected before undergoing scans, on humans in an imaging study. And before the company can initiate the study, it’ll have to ramp up production of its antibody — a manufacturing process that takes about a year, according to Bergen.

Neither of those moves will be cheap, and Enlyton will need more than the $2 million it’s raised in cash and in-kind contributions since it started in 2004, so the company is in discussions with venture capitalists.

Finding VC money is Ohio is tough, Bergen admitted, since most investors are more comfortable in the medical device space. (Devices accounted for 22 percent of all venture dollars to Ohio companies last year, with biotechnology accounting for just 11 percent, according to the National Venture Capital Association.)

If Enlyton is going to convince VCs to fork over their cash, the strength of the company’s technology will be among the deciding factors. The company got its start when founder Dr. Edward Martin Jr. licensed a portfolio of antibodies from the National Institutes of Health. Martin, a surgery professor Ohio State University, had been working with the NIH since the 1980s on projects involving TAG-72 antigen, a substance found on the surface of many cancer cells.

Enlyton’s ATA-1 antibody binds to TAG-72 and not to normal tissues, making cancerous tumors more visible to oncologists on scans. To understand why, it’s necessary to examine how the technology on the market today detects cancer.

Scanners rely on an agent called FDG that targets glucose because cancerous tumors process large amounts of sugar. The problem is that non-cancerous organs in the body also are constantly processing smaller amounts of glucose, which can lead to a lack of precision in medical images, or a “background effect,” as Bergen calls it. The reliance on F-FDG also leads to false positives and a difficulty in detecting smaller tumors, he said.

“The advantage we have is that our antibody is cancer-specific,” he said.

It’s recognized within the industry that today’s imaging technology isn’t all it could be, said Dr. Robert Ferguson, chairman of the department of radiology with Cleveland’s MetroHealth System.

That’s why so many companies like Enlyton are trying to make strides in the field of molecular imaging. “The promise lies in greater specificity in identifying particular pathologies,” Ferguson said of molecular imaging.

Initially, Enlyton plans to target the imaging market for colorectal, pancreatic, gastric, esophageal and lung cancer. Later, the company hopes to sell its antibody for use in intraoperative detection of cancer. In that application, the company’s antibodies would be identified by a handheld probe that’s waved over a patient’s body to show surgeons the exact locations of tumors.

While Enlyton’s antibody hasn’t been tested yet in human imaging studies, it has been injected into humans in two studies, which showed that the substance is well-tolerated. If Enlyton can successfully complete a clinical imaging trial, Bergen expects to get significant attention from imaging and diagnostics companies.