Pharma

Nanotechnology firm developing cancer vaccines signs deal with Merck KGaA

An immunotechnology startup that moved that across the Ohio-Indiana state line in 2009 is having a big 2012 as it completes a licensing agreement with Merck KGaA and prepares to being clinical trials of a treatment for human papilloma virus-related cancers. PDS Biotechnology Corp. is developing its immunotherapy technology, Versamune, as a platform for prevention […]

An immunotechnology startup that moved that across the Ohio-Indiana state line in 2009 is having a big 2012 as it completes a licensing agreement with Merck KGaA and prepares to being clinical trials of a treatment for human papilloma virus-related cancers.

PDS Biotechnology Corp. is developing its immunotherapy technology, Versamune, as a platform for prevention and treatment of cancers including melanoma and those caused by HPV, including cervical, head and neck and anal cancers.

Last week, PDS announced it signed a licensing deal with Merck KGaA for use of its nanotechnology platform in two of the German pharmaceutical company’s investigational new cancer treatments. PDS will receive an undisclosed upfront payment in cash plus milestone payments and royalties.

CEO Dr. Frank Bedu-Addo did not respond to a request for comment but said in a statement that the deal is “important since the company’s business strategy is focused on a few strategic out-licensing or partnering deals at a preclinical or early clinical stage.”

According to the company’s website, it’s also preparing to begin clinical trials this year of its lead candidate, a vaccine for HPV-induced cancers.

The Versamune platform uses positively charged, lipid-based nanoparticles to activate dendritic cells and induce production of critical proteins that cause T-cells to activate and proliferate, while also reducing the population of immune-suppressive cells. In pre-clinical models in which it was combined with other cancer-associated molecules, the platform demonstrated improved tumor regression rates.

In addition to HPV-related cancers, the technology is also being applied in pre-clinical work toward a melanoma vaccine and an influenza vaccine.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and is the cause of nearly all cervical cancers. The FDA has approved two preventive vaccines for HPV – Merck’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix – but no therapeutic vaccines. Numerous companies and research institutions are working toward one, though, including Advaxis (ADXS), which has an immunotherapy in phase II trials, and Inovio (NYSE AMEX:INO) and Genticel, which are in pre-clinical development.

Formerly based in Cincinnati, PDS was lured across the state line to Lawrenceburg, Indiana, with a $2 million grant from the 21st Century Research and Technology fund in 2009. Since then, it has received a $1.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to file an IND for its HPV cancer therapy and a third equity investment from lead investor Asklepios Capital.